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Tough conversations about relinquishing a driver’s license

At some time, you will feel concern or even fear that your parents should no longer drive an automobile.

This is one of the most important deliberations, considerations and possible actions you will probably face as the family caregiver.

A person’s age is not and should not be the reason for taking away the car keys. There are people in their 80s and 90s who hold licenses and drive actively and safely.

Physical and mental condition and ability are the first factors to consider.

  • Vision: Conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can hamper driving ability.

  • Physical ability: Driving takes dexterity, ability and strength in both arms.

  • Physical activity: Mature adult drivers die in auto accidents at a rate higher than other age bracket because, at home, many do little or no exercise.

  • Diseases: Patients with Alzheimer’s disease can become disoriented almost anywhere.

  • Medications: Prescription drugs combined with other drugs or supplements can cause side effects.

  • Ride along: Take a ride or three with your loved one and observe his or her physical ability in controlling the vehicle.

If you need to assess a senior’s driving ability, watch for these red flags:

  • Slow response times.

  • Inability to fully turn to check blind spots.

  • Running stop signs.

  • Motorists honking at them frequently.

  • A hesitation or reluctance to drive.

  • Cognitive dysfunction, such as getting lost or calling for help.

  • Repeat fender benders, dings, or paint scrapes on the car.

  • If you think the situation is serious, consult the person’s doctor.

Step 1: Have a Plan in Place

Before you sit down to talk about how to take away the car keys, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for transportation.

“If you are going to create a void, you have some responsibility to fill it”

For older adults living in cities, the options can be plenty but for others who live miles from doctor offices and grocery stores, taking away the car keys often means giving up their independence and depending on others for rides.

Step 2: Start a Conversation

Some tips for the conversation:

  • Ask, “What do you think we should do?” instead of saying, “we think you should stop driving.”

  • Be empathetic. Share that you want them to be active and have as full a life as possible.

  • Doctors suggest you share your fears, such as, “I don’t want the last chapter of your life to be marred by an accident that kills someone.”

  • Try open-ended questions such as “at what point will you know you’re no longer safe to drive?”

  • Use the word “I” and “we,” not “you.” For example, “I’m concerned about the minor accidents you’ve had recently.

  • If you’re lucky, the driver will come to a decision on his/her own that it is time or soon time, to stop driving. If the first meeting doesn’t go well you can table the discussion with idea that you’ll meet again. This gives the driver time to reflect on your concerns.

  • Whatever the cause for the diminished driving ability, family members owe it to their loved ones to watch out for their safety, as well as that of the community.

Driving in the future, is one of the reasons I joined Villages of Santa Fe, when my time comes to relinquish my car keys, I can count on our volunteers to drive me in my time of need.

Suggestion from Ann Church. Have the driver take an AARP Safe Driver Course. It might help having an outside opinion. Setup a Lyft or Uber account so the (ex) driver can be independent in ordering rides.

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