Aging Parents: Is it Time to Take Away the Keys?

Aging parents driving
Aging parents may be too impaired to drive, yet it's a sensitive subject for them. Some signs it's time to get proactive and have the talk.

Aging parents can be a blessing or a burden, and at times, they are both. Some of us look at this time as a way to give back to give back to our parents for the hard job of raising us. But the challenges that come with aging parents are often difficult to navigate. Aging parents who really need to get off the road and stop driving, for example, are often loathe to recognize this fact. They don’t want to give up their freedom and it may fall on us to get them to give up their keys.

Parents may see any suggestion that they stop driving as an insult. To them, it feels as though we’re saying they’re no longer capable of a simple task they’ve done for decades: driving. From their perspective, the implication is that they are defective, past their sell-by date, so to speak. In other words, telling aging parents to stop driving is a sensitive topic.

Take a Good Look

That’s why before you begin the conversation about taking away their car keys, it’s important not to jump to any conclusions. Take a good look at your aging parents and any possible issues that might make it difficult to drive. Then closely consider whether or not they can safely continue to drive—at least for the time being.

Lots of seniors, even into their 8th or 9th decades, are perfectly capable of driving safely. On the other hand, as people age, their faculties deteriorate. Aging parents may be losing critical physical skills. They may have vision or hearing difficulties, slower reaction times, and health issues that make driving a dangerous proposition.

How then, should you know when your aging parents need to turn in their car keys? In the best scenario, they know it themselves, and you won’t have to say a thing. But if that doesn’t happen, you need to know when to become proactive.

Physical Signs it’s Time to Stop Driving

Some parents display physical signs that it’s time for them to stop driving, such as:

  • Poor vision from glaucoma, macular degeneration, or cataracts; impaired hearing; and slowing reflexes mean that aging parents can no longer see, hear, and respond to pedestrians and other cars on the road as they should
  • Osteoporosis can cause seniors to lose height, making it difficult for them to see over the steering wheel.
  • Arthritic pain and stiffness of the neck or back is common in seniors, which can make it difficult to turn to see the road when changing lanes or for spotting pedestrians.
  • Loss of leg strength or arthritic leg pain can make it a challenge to press hard enough on the gas and brake pedals or to switch off between the two.
  • Loss of general strength may make it tough going to steer with the required speed and accuracy.
  • Significant cognitive changes are an obvious sign that a parent needs to stop driving, however, some subtle memory loss is not a reason to take away the keys. Everyone has senior moments which generally do not affect driving skill.
  • Slower reaction time may make it take too much time to take note of merging cars, or to respond when the car just ahead of them slows or stops.
  • Multitasking capabilities decrease with age and driving is all about multitasking. Drivers must pay attention to the speed at which they are driving, while reading road signs and signals, and while watching out for other cars, pedestrians, and various distractions (such as a fly that gets trapped inside the car, or a favorite song on the radio).

Aging Parents: Warning Signs it’s No Longer Safe to Drive

In addition to physical signs, there can be other signs that it’s time to ease your parents out of the driver’s seat:

  • Take a look at your parents’ car from time to time. Are you seeing new scratches and dents? Is there any damage to the driveway or garage door?
  • Note any traffic citations or tickets and if possible, any changes to your aging parents’ auto insurance rates.
  • Are you seeing any changes to their driving habits? Have they begun to run stoplights? Do they forget to buckle up?
  • Do your parents seem fatigued after driving? The stress of paying attention to so many things at once while driving, can be tiring over time. As parents become weary from behind the wheel, they may become confused, irritable, or distracted, all of which can lead to unsafe driving.
  • Have you noticed your parents become lost a little too often, even when driving in familiar areas?
  • Has it become a struggle for your parent to back up or turn?
  • Is your parent confusing the gas and brake pedals, or stepping on both at the same time?
  • Has your parent been too slow to respond to unexpected situations on the road?
  • Is an elderly parent having episodes of road rage?
  • Have you noticed that other drivers are honking at your parents more and more often?
  • Have your aging parents had more than one close call?
  • Are your parents nervous about driving at night?
  • Have family or friends expressed fear in regard to riding with one of your parents at the wheel?

It’s hard to watch elderly parents decline. Not to mention, it’s difficult to get them to listen to your concerns. But the bottom line is that when the driving skills of your aging parents begin to deteriorate, you have no choice but to intervene. As much as you don’t like taking their independence away, it’s critical to prevent the worst from happening, not only to your parents, but for others on the road.



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