When Is It Time To Take Away the Car Keys from a Senior?

clock and keysAs a consultant, I drive roughly 75 miles on average every working day, and some days more than that. I enjoy driving and have from the first day that I got my license when I turned 17 (I drove to NYC on that day). Strumings readers also know I took a cross-country trip with my family in the summer of 1999 so driving is something that is important and, absent traffic, enjoyable to me. Nothing like driving on an interstate and listening to the Top 20 songs guaranteed to get you a speeding ticket.

I cannot conceive of the day when I might be too old/unable to drive. Perhaps by that point, I can get in my car and say “Take me to the House that Ruth built” and my car will drive me to 161st & River in the Bronx. I would be OK with that.

In today’s world we need to be mindful that there are some seniors on the road that should no longer be driving. Perhaps some of them are your parents (or you). This in fact is the time of year when it becomes more obvious that mom or dad is “slipping”. Holiday family gatherings are a reminder of changes:

Did they call you the wrong name?

Did they repeat the same story multiple times?

Did they seem unsteady as they walked?

Are they current with their medications?

I do a lot of consulting work with a terrific company called Griswold Home Care. They are a national chain providing caregiving to seniors in 33 states across the country. Originally founded by the late Jean Griswold (not Chevy Chase a/k/a Clark Griswold) the company has become a national leader.

They recently wrote about this topic that is obviously directly relevant to their clients. Smart stuff. Here are their thoughts…..

The time comes eventually for everyone when they need to stop driving, but admitting it is that time can be difficult for many people.

There are ways families can help their loved ones realize when it is too dangerous for them to be behind the wheel. Besides, giving up driving doesn’t have to mean giving up independence. Here are the answers to a few key questions:

1. Why do older people have such a hard time giving up the car keys?

Giving up driving can lead to emotional, physical and pragmatic concerns about how to get around. Seniors are already at risk for isolation and depression, and making it more difficult to get around can only worsen outcomes. A 2006 study by the University of Montreal found that seniors who had hung up their keys were about five times more likely to end up in long-term care compared to those who were still driving. And it’s easy to see why. Imagine you spontaneously want to catch a movie or go out to dinner with a friend. If your only means of getting around is asking someone to drive you or using scheduled transportation, then you’re probably out of luck. Nobody wants to feel like they’re imposing on their family or friends, especially not every time they want to go out on a whim. Here are answers to a few key questions:

2. Why does it become more difficult to drive as you age?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2015, more than 6,800 older adults were killed and more than 260,000 were treated for motor vehicle crash injuries. Even if you have five decades of experience behind the wheel, you’re going to be a danger on the road if your eyesight and reflexes aren’t up to the task of driving. Safe drivers need to be able to make snap decisions. When debris blows onto the road or someone makes an unexpected turn, the difference between a close call and a total disaster is often decided in less than two seconds. Age only makes our vision and reaction time worse, which is why 80-year-old drivers get into just as many accidents as 18-year-old drivers.

3. When is it time for an older person to stop driving?

Fortunately, it’s easy to spot many of the signs that it’s time to quit driving. When a driver becomes easily distracted, has trouble maintaining the correct lane, has significantly impaired vision, tends to drive too fast or too slow, or starts hitting curbs frequently, these are warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. If you don’t spend much time in the car with your loved one, the signs you’re looking for might be minor scrapes or dents appearing on the car or garage.

4. How should you approach an older person to give up their car keys?

Figuring out when it’s time for a loved one to stop driving is one of the tougher challenges a family can face. Driving can give a person a great deal of independence, which is an increasingly precious commodity as we get older. While you don’t want to make your parents miserable by taking away their keys, you don’t want to see them get into a serious accident either. It is important that the entire family be unified in their support of the idea and maybe even broach the subject as a group, perhaps during a holiday or family get-together. Underpin the conversation with love, and exhibit concern for their safety. Note that your children want to grow up enjoying their nana or pop-pop. And offer alternatives that you’ve previously worked out with siblings or neighbors so your aging relative won’t feel like they’re being completely stripped of their ability to get out.

5. Is there a way to transition them out of driving rather than taking away the keys cold turkey?

Once you’ve determined that they are a potential danger to themselves or others, it doesn’t make sense to wean them off driving, because every trip becomes a risk for disaster. But fortunately, services like Lyft or Uber can help provide safe transportation on demand. And for a more permanent solution, in-home caregivers can address these issues on multiple fronts by providing both transportation and companionship. Either option is far better than needlessly endangering lives with risky driving.

6. What can you do if an older person won’t stop driving, but they are a danger to themselves and others?

Unfortunately, there’s little you can do unless and until there’s an accident. Most states don’t have laws that specifically require older drivers to undergo additional driving testing. Legal authorities are generally powerless to strip someone of their right to drive until they’ve actually done harm. What that means is that more often than not, families have to work out these issues for themselves. Telling someone it’s time to hang up their keys is a tough topic to broach, but ignoring the signs it’s time to quit is a mistake many people don’t live to regret.

Hope these thoughts are helpful. Drive safely always and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year ahead. Strumings will be back in 2019 for its 10th year (and never missed a week).

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