To Drive or Not to Drive?

My mother is a danger on the road, but I’m having trouble taking her keys away. What should I do?
Coretta in Texas, 49

More than any other activity, driving is directly linked to a senior citizen’s sense of independence. It takes them back to their youth and days of freedom. But driving privileges must be revoked if they’re driving erratically or exhibiting poor judgment that can put their life or the lives of others in danger. Take a hard look at whether or not your elder should still be operating a motor vehicle. Don’t just take their keys away. Be sensitive about the situation and plan how you’re going to take them away. Always look for creative solutions and involve your elder in the process. If the car is no longer needed, sell it and put the money toward a transportation budget such as an open tab with a taxi service.

If your elder is still competent behind the wheel, consider having them retested at the Department of Motor Vehicles. You can also make it more comfortable for them to drive. Here are ten easy steps to take:

1. Make clear maps and put them in plastic so they are stationary and easier to read.

2. Limit or restrict radio use.

3. Suggest they dial or answer a cell phone only when the car is parked.

4. Be sure the car is clean, gassed, and in good working order.

5. Be sure the windows are clean inside and out, and that the windshield wipers are in top working condition.

6. Have them take a defensive driving class to learn any new laws and safety techniques or to reinforce what they already know.

7. Ensure they’re never under the influence of alcohol or medication that impairs their reaction time, hearing, vision, or causes drowsiness.

8. Subscribe to a roadside service in case of emergency.

9. Be sure the car insurance is up to date.

10. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in the glove compartment and their wallet.

Having driving privileges revoked could cause a host of problems for your elder. They lose their primary source of transportation, social status, and the ability to easily purchase food and bring it home. They could find it difficult to attend social gatherings and help friends as they’re accustomed to doing. Loss of the privilege could also increase their anxiety level due to both real and imagined isolation, which should be avoided at all costs. Encourage family and friends to visit, schedule the weekly card game to take place in their house, and determine new ways to bring entertainment into the home.

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