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What You Should Know About Taking the Keys from Your Elderly Parents

As people age, their mental and physical faculties slow and deteriorate, and so does their ability to heal and repair tissue and muscle in the event of an accident. Which is why for an elderly person, driving can be an especially dangerous activity. Not only are elderly people at an increased risk of being involved in an accident, but are also at an increased risk of sustaining a serious or fatal injury should an accident occur. As you navigate various issues with your elderly parents, such as free home healthcare services, medications, nursing home care, long-term care insurance, and more, something else it may be time to think about is taking the keys away. Consider the following about driving for the elderly, signs that it’s time for your parent to stop driving, and how to have a conversation about handing over the car keys.

Facts About Elderly Driving

Elderly drivers are actually relatively safe drivers. For example, they often wear their seatbelts, maintain low speeds, drive while sober, and stay off of the road when it’s dark outside or conditions are less than ideal. However, there are also some risks associated with elderly driving, too, such as:

  • More than ¾ of drivers over the age of 65 use at least one prescription medication, but fewer than ⅓ acknowledge the potential implications and potential side effects, such as drowsiness, of driving while on medication.
  • Due to fragility, the fatality rate for older drivers is 17 times that what it is for drivers between the age of 25-65.
  • Per miles traveled, after the age of 75, the car accident-related fatality rate increases, and rises sharply after age 80.
  • Seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years.

Is It Time to Talk About Not Driving with Your Elderly Parent?

It may be time to talk to your elderly parent(s) about not driving anymore if you notice any of the following warning signs:

  • Diagnosis of certain health conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Taking medications that have drowsiness as a side effect;
  • Impaired hearing or vision that is not correctable with medical aids (i.e. glasses or hearing aids);
  • Delayed response to situations;
  • Confusion when driving, such as getting lost or being unsure of which lane to use;
  • Inability to keep up with traffic;
  • Becoming easily distracted when driving; or
  • Close calls or minor accidents.

How to Talk About Taking the Keys

Broaching the topic of your parent’s dangerous driving can be challenging, and an elderly parent may respond by feeling angry, upset, hurt, or defensive. However, it’s an important conversation to have. Here are some tips for talking about taking the keys–

  1. Be empathetic – Remember that this may be an emotional conversation. 
  2. Express your concern for their health and safety – Rather than attacking their driving ability, express your concern for your parent’s health. For example, say, “I just want you to be as safe as possible,” or, “The thought of you being in an accident makes me very sad.”
  3. Offer another solution – Rather than just threatening to take your parent’s keys and leaving it at that, present them with another solution. For example, on Tuesdays you can drive them to the grocery store, on Wednesdays, your sister has volunteered to drive them to their weekly lunch meet-up, and on Sundays, they can carpool to church with the neighbors.

Don’t Wait

If you think that your parent’s driving habits are becoming dangerous, don’t wait to have a conversation. Sit down today to find a solution that works for everyone. Your parent may qualify for help from DOL EEOICPA programs.