Making the Decision to Take Away Elder Parent’s Keys

Taking the keys away from an older parent or family member is difficult and life-changing for the individual. See firsthand their driving skills before deciding to take away the keys.

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Making the Decision to Take Away Elder Parent’s Keys
9 Min Read December 10th, 2017 Updated:January 13th, 2023

Most of us value our independence. Remember that day after getting your driver's license, you were allowed to take the car for the first time? Since that day, you have been independent. 

Dr. Ganesh Babulal - Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says driving is an integral part of the American identity.

For the next three decades, there's going to be massive growth of the aging population, and driving — not autonomous vehicles or ride-sharing, but driving yourself — will continue to be the primary method of transportation.

Yet, when we get older, our driving skills may diminish. You may see this firsthand now with one of your parents. Should they still be allowed on the road?

Driving is a highly complex task that most of us take for granted. However, our skills and health change as we age. First, there are the physical demands of driving to consider. Then you have cognitive issues, including critical thinking, judgment, reasoning, and remembering, that all decline over time.

The decision about an older family member's ability to drive may become your responsibility. At some point, you may be in a position to decide to take away your elder parent's driving privileges. The decision to take away the car keys will not be easy, as you may be responsible for taking away a large part of their independence, something they have done all their life.

AAA says that as a group, seniors are safe drivers compared to other age groups because they are risk-avoidant. They tend to wear their seat belts, not use excessive speed and don't drink and drive. However, AAA says they are more likely to be injured or killed in traffic crashes due to age-related vulnerabilities, such as more fragile bones. 

Medical Conditions Can Impact Driving Skills

Our reflexes get slower with age. Reaction time to driving events quickly becomes reduced, placing them and other drivers at risk as these reactions diminish. 

Many older people also suffer from a shorter attention span, and the shorter attention span limits the ability to do two things at once, which is essential when driving.  

With age comes additional changes in health, body, and mind. Many of these changes will impact a person's ability to drive. Even simple things like stiff joints or weaker muscles reduce the ability to move quickly, which is vital in an emergency driving situation. 

The loss of feeling or tingling in your feet and fingers can make it harder to use the foot pedals or steer. Other, more serious health issues may make it completely unsafe for a person to drive.

Medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses also make it more difficult for older drivers to recover from any injuries they may have in an accident. Except for teen drivers, seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven, even though they drive fewer miles than younger people.

Seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years. Most older drivers recognize and avoid situations where their limitations put them at risk. Older drivers tend to drive less after dark, during rush hour, or in bad weather and avoid difficult roads such as highways and intersections.

Aging and Driving Don't Always Go Well Together

Emily Yoffe writes on Slate ...

When old people are involved in fatal crashes, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports, their victims are most likely to be themselves and their equally elderly, frail passengers. Intersections are particularly perilous. According to a study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, intersection crashes accounted for about one-half of the fatalities in accidents among drivers 85 and older.

The study found that when drivers 70 to 79 were involved in intersection collisions, they had misjudged whether it was safe to proceed. Those aged 80 and over simply failed to see the other car.

Age should not be the only reason an older person should no longer drive. However, as we age, we should pay attention and recognize when their health and driving skills get to the point that they should no longer be allowed behind a vehicle's wheel. Physical health issues and cognitive issues (Alzheimer's and other dementias) will pose a risk for the older driver and others on the road.

Sometimes, it can be hard for an older person to realize that they are no longer a safe driver. It would be best if you observed their driving firsthand before discussing their driving with them.

Observing an Elder Driver

The National Institute on Aging (NIH) says there are things you should be looking for when reviewing if their driving is an issue:

  • Multiple-vehicle crashes, "near misses," and/or new dents in the car

  • Two or more traffic tickets or warnings within the last two years; increases in car insurance premiums because of driving issues

  • Comments from neighbors or friends about driving

  • Anxiety about driving at night

  • Health issues that might affect driving ability, including problems with vision, hearing, and/or movement, including early memory loss

  • Complaints about the speed, sudden lane changes, or actions of other drivers

  • Recommendations from a doctor to modify driving habits or quit driving entirely

If you have any questions about their ability to drive, be sure to do a "ride-along" and observe their physical ability to control the vehicle. 

Your observation should include how they "stay within the lines." Do they weave or take up two lanes at the same time? Do they look left and right when they decide to change lanes? Do they use their blinkers? Do they seem confused in traffic or too cautious that they become a danger on the road?  

Look for excessive excuses for their driving actions. See if they avoid close parking places for those farther away but where no other vehicles are located. These all are signs that their time on the road should be coming to an end.

You might want to go to their next doctor's office visit and bring up the issue of driving. They might lie to you, but they may be less likely to lie to the doctor.

Medications and the Ability to Drive

Remember, medications they may be taking could be a reason for their driving problems. A change in medication could be the answer to better driving. Clear communication with the doctor is critical in determining if the driving problem is part of the aging process or just a result of a medication that might be interacting with another drug or directly causing an issue that impacts their ability to drive.

According to Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, many medications can adversely impact an individual's ability to drive when they are older. Recent research indicates that the more medications an older adults take, the greater the potential of driving impairment. 

There is a growing population of older drivers who use multiple medications and likely do not realize the impact these prescriptions may have on their driving. This new research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use an inappropriate medication that can potentially cause driving impairment.

Do not hesitate if you feel your parent is no longer able to be a safe driver. Hopefully, they willfully agree when you have the discussion. However, if they are not willing to give up the keys, you should still move forward for the safety of both your older parent and the public.

Suggestions to Consider 

Intervention.

This can be confrontational, but a group of family members and friends can be a powerful message to your parent. Getting a healthcare professional and even a clergy member involved can be helpful if you take this approach. The intervention needs to be handled firmly, but remember to be compassionate. The decision will impact their life and their independence. The inability to drive will change their lives, and they will become dependent on others. However, their level of denial might be very high. 

DMV  

You can contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles and report your concerns. Depending upon state regulations and your senior's disabilities, it may be illegal for them to continue to drive. The DMV may do nothing more than send a letter, but this might help convince your parent to stop. A report to the DMV could trigger a review of your parent's driving record or an order to retest the driver. Click here for a state-by-state look at driving rules for seniors.

Take Away the Keys

For some, this is the most extreme, but maybe the only way to ensure your elder parent is safe. When you take the keys away, disable the vehicle, or move the vehicle to another location, you prevent access. They will not be happy; however, over time, they may feel better that the decision was made for them and was for the best.

You Take the Keys Away … Now What?

When you take away their ability to get around, this can force you and other family members to be more involved. That will be challenging since you have your own careers, family responsibilities, and time concerns that will get in the way.

Some areas provide free or low-cost bus or taxi services for older people. Some communities offer a carpool service or scheduled trips to the grocery store, mall, or doctor's office. Religious and civic groups sometimes have volunteers who will drive your parent where they may need to go.

Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find services in your area. Call 1-800-677-1116, or click here to find your nearest Area Agency on Aging.

More and more people are using services like Uber and Lyft. Both Uber and its competitor Lyft have taken steps to make their apps more accessible to seniors. Plus, you may be able to arrange for the service through your smartphone. As you know, more seniors now have smartphones, so this can be a convenient way for them to enjoy independence.

Resources

AARP offers the highly recommended Driver Safety Program for older people. To find a class near you, visit AARP's Driver Safety page online, call toll-free at 1-888-227-7669.

If concern for your parent's driving ability has not yet become a concern, it probably will. Things can change quickly, so if they seem to be driving well now\ it doesn't mean next month will be the same, and it requires you to be fully aware of their situation.

Being Realistic About Aging

It is often difficult for many people to realize that their parent is getting older and declining. Aging happens, and the consequences can be devastating if we ignore it. 

As we see our parents decline, we better start looking at a mirror. What have you done to prepare for the costs and burdens of changing health and aging?

Retirement planning is vital, and part of those plans should be Long-Term Care Insurance. Many of us will become dependent on others and need assistance with daily activities or supervision due to memory loss. 

Caregiving is demanding on your family, and professional care is expensive. What to do?

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance will not become your driver, but it will provide you access to your choice of quality care options, including in-home care. You will protect your savings and ease the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on those you love.

The best time to plan is when you are younger, ideally in your 40s or 50s. Seek help from a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you navigate the many companies and their options.

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

Losing your independence is something we wish to avoid. When you lose your ability to drive, it can be very demoralizing. However, as our bodies change over time and we experience chronic health or aging issues, we become more dependent on others. 

What is your plan? Who will help you with everyday activities? Will you need to have professional caregivers? The answer is likely; yes, you will.

Now, how do you pay for it? The cost of long-term health care is exploding nationwide. The ability of family members to become full-time caregivers is limited.

The solution is affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. 

LTC Insurance is the Solution

A prosperous future retirement will include a solution for long-term health care. Long-term care and longevity will impact you, your family, your savings, your lifestyle, and your legacy. Longevity and related health issues should be addressed well before you retire.

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance will not only safeguard your savings (401(k) IRA 403(b) SEP) but will reduce the tremendous burden that is otherwise placed on your family down the road.

Reduce some of that burden and make Long-Term Care Insurance part of your plan. These policies will provide resources for quality care either at home or in a facility like assisted living.

Resources to Answer Questions About Long-Term Care Planning

LTC NEWS has many tools and resources. These resources can help you in your research as you prepare for your future retirement and plan for the costs and burdens of aging and declining health.

Today's Reverse Mortgages Can Benefit Older Families

Some people have a large portion of their savings in their homes. With the help of reverse mortgages, you can find ways to pay for quality in-home care, pay for LTC Insurance, and even assist with cash flow during retirement.

Yes, today's reverse mortgages may be the perfect way to pay for a Long-Term Care Insurance policy or even cover the cost of in-home care if you or a loved one is currently in need.

Asking an expert with your questions will help you learn more. Mike Banner, a columnist for LTC NEWS and the host of the television program "62 Who Knew," will respond to your inquiries about long-term care, reverse mortgages, aging, and health.

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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