When and how to take away the car keys
many older adults are capable of driving safely, even into their
seventies and eighties. But people age differently. Several factors
place seniors at much greater risk for road accidents. More important,
a person 70 or older who is involved in a car accident is more likely
to be seriously hurt, more likely to require hospitalization and much
more likely to die than a young person involved in the same crash.
Knowing the risk factors and warning signs of an older loved one who
has become unable to safely operate a vehicle will help you gauge when
it’s time to take away the keys. There are also strategies to help you
talk to seniors sensitively about giving up driving and present them
with practical transportation alternatives.
Changes that come with age can adversely affect driving ability. These include:
- Visual decline—including poor depth perception, narrowed
peripheral vision, poor judgment of speed and poor night vision, along
with increased sensitivity to bright sunlight, headlights and glare.
- Hearing loss—especially the ability to hear important warning sounds while driving.
mobility and decreased flexibility—which increases response time slows
pedal selection and steering control, and limits the ability to turn
one’s head to look for hazards.
- Chronic conditions—such
as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, heart
disease or diabetes can impair driving skills, even suddenly.
older people often take more medications, which, in combination or
taken with alcohol, can result in risky unpredictable and dangerous
- and drug interactions.
often due to medication side-effects or sleep difficulties that come
with age, resulting in daytime tiredness and an increased tendency to
doze off during the day (or while driving).
- Dementia or
brain impairment—makes driving more dangerous and more frustrating. It
can also cause delayed reactions and confusion on the road.
When it’s time to hang up the keys:
Talking to a relative
about his or her need to stop driving is one of the most difficult
discussions you may ever face. However, it’s better if it comes in the
form of advice from you or someone he or she knows rather than by an
order from a judge or the DMV. One of the main reasons seniors are
reluctant to give up driving is that it is one of the few ways they can
continue to feel self-sufficient. The discussion becomes even more
difficult when the person still maintains most of his or her faculties,
just not those that enable safe driving.
How to approach “The Talk:"
It helps to have a thoughtful, caring plan in place before saying anything, says Harriet Vines,
author of “Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy.” She suggests:
- Be empathetic. “Imagine how you would feel if you were in
your parent’s place,” Vines says. Ask others to join in the meeting. It
helps to involve other family members in the discussion—to help, but
not to confront.
- Keep the conversation non-accusatory,
honest and between “adults,” not “child and parent.” Say things like,
“We’re concerned,” “We care” or “We don’t want you to get hurt or to
hurt others.” Once you’ve both come to an agreement, you can continue
to support your loved one in ways beyond just offering rides.
the senior to use positive language to describe their situation to
others and help them gain comfort in asking for assistance.
- Help the senior make a schedule. He or she can plan activities and combine trips on oneday when a caregiver can drive them.