Aging Parents

Tough Choices: Taking Away the Keys

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Remember getting a set of keys for the first time? The freedom you felt and the possibility to go anywhere and everywhere your heart desired. After years of driving and miles of carpooling, performing kid taxi duties, and road trips, we may begin to take the freedom of driving for granted. That is, until we reach retirement age or older and it becomes an important lifeline to the outside world. 

Many seniors, especially those who live alone or in rural areas, place a high value on driving because it enables them the freedom of engaging in society and socializing, two things that are incredibly important throughout our entire lives but especially as we age. We all want to feel valued and seen and, unfortunately, more seniors than ever are feeling isolated or homebound. 

It may come as no surprise that the decision to take the keys away from an aging loved one feels incredibly personal and maybe even scary for them. As caretakers, however, we also must think of safety for both our loved ones and others on the road. Before you decide to have a discussion with your aging loved one about retiring from driving, there are some important points to consider. 

Do they just need a refresher?

When we age, our physical and mental capabilities change quite drastically. As a senior, your loved one possibly learned how to drive decades ago, which means they may just need to refresh their knowledge and change their skill set to suit their current requirements on the road. Driving laws change over time and the rapid advancement in car technology means things can get a bit confusing, creating the need for courses such as Smart Driver (offered by AARP), Mature Driver Safety and other Seasoned Driver Training Programs.

Some basic principles that your loved one will learn in their driving course include:

  • How to avoid accidents
  • Maintaining a safe vehicle
  • How medications may affect driving
  • How aging affects driving
  • The use of safety restraints and airbags
  • Updated laws and regulations

Not only will taking a course help your loved one keep the keys for a longer period, but they will get the bonus of a discount on car insurance. Many insurance companies understand that covering older drivers can be a risky business, so when a senior opts to take a defensive driving course, they may save on average 10% on insurance. 

Bring in a third party

If, after evaluating the situation, you feel that your loved one indeed needs to retire the keys, you may want to consider bringing in a third party to help you break the news. This can be a healthcare professional, such as a trusted doctor, a trusted family friend, or even an organization that provides driving evaluations, such as EasterSeals. No matter how you go about it, you will need to approach the situation with compassion and an understanding that your loved one may fear loneliness and isolation that can come from having no transportation.

If you are becoming concerned about your aging loved one’s ability to drive, some things to look for include:

  • Driving too slowly
  • Scrapes or dents on the car
  • Failing to stop or slow down when needed
  • Getting lost in familiar places or general confusion while driving
  • Moving into the wrong lane
  • Exhibiting delayed response times

Plan for how they will remain social and engaged

Because you have your aging loved one’s best interests at heart, it is important to help create a plan for how they will remain socially engaged once they are retired from driving. Busing or shuttle services may be available in some areas, or you can simply come up with a plan alongside your extended family to help your loved one get to where they need to go. Companion services are available in which visiting care takers are available to help your loved one in any way they may need, transportation included. 

For many seniors, they see the car as the first thing to go on their path to remain independent at home. It is important to work with your loved one, therefore, to make sure a plan is in place so that they feel supported during this difficult transition.

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