When is it time? How can I accomplish this without causing a family crisis? How will you know?

It can be one of the most difficult and emotional decisions in the life of an elder and/or their adult children.

As I mentioned in Part 1, I think it’s a matter of realizing not just the fear that I feel as an adult child of an elder who (might) should not be driving anymore.  But that I also realize what my elder is going through. As much as possible, it’s very helpful to observe from the 10,000 ft level, as it were, staying engaged of course.  You and I pondered the loss of freedom that the elder may experience in the previous post, now let’s consider another key emotion in this scenario, that of sadness.  I’ll save anger for another day, as it can be triggered by any number of changes.

The sadness: this comes from realizing that “I’m not as young as I used to be…” and that one’s capabilities are changing.  As it becomes obvious to the elder that more capabilities are changing, this can lead to depression, but that’s a subject for yet another day, and I will engage a professional to help out.

I found with my dad that it was very helpful to get him to recognize that his capabilities were simply changing.  It wasn’t easy, but occasionally he would really realize that the changes didn’t necessarily make him “less than” he used to be.  I encouraged him to think about what he could do now that he couldn’t do before.  And yes, it didn’t work all the time  🙁

There are so many different scenarios, as many as the personalities—and skills—involved.  What are some considerations as to whether “it’s time” or not to take the car keys away?

A pair of elders, living together:

  1. Have they taken the defensive driving courses offered for seniors? This is often provided by the company that insures the automobile.  This can be a huge help, as the pair can learn to work together, 4 eyes ARE better than 2.  This is especially powerful as response times can be slowed with age.  My mother and father took the defensive driving course a couple of times. Even though their relationship was rocky at times, this was one thing they excelled in—my father, who usually drove, accepted without too much defensiveness my mother’s 2nd pair of trained eyes as she would notice potential hazards as they drove.
  2. What is the level of vision or hearing impairment, and has it been treated? Maybe only daytime driving is safe now.  Several years after my father broke his leg, he began driving less. My mother did begin to drive more then, but only during the day.  Soon, however, she began to pay their handyman to drive her to stores.  This was a huge win-win for all of us.
  3. Do the elders “cover for each other” or are they honest about their abilities?  This can be a very troubling issue, and one that is best handled patiently.  Plan to have one or more of the adult children/neighbors, etc “come along for the ride” with each of the elders to learn of their current capabilities.  It can be as simple as “I need to pick up a few things myself, would it be okay if I hitched a ride with you to the store?”  And then confer amongst yourselves.  Direct confrontation may be ultimately necessary, I just consider this as the last resort.

A single elder, living alone: the above 3 questions apply here, with slight modifications.  It is useful to have another adult (relative, friend or “employee”) help with the assessment.

  1. Defensive driving is very helpful, with a caveat—this can make the elder exaggerate his/her ability and capability.
  2. Vision and/or hearing impairment—has it been treated, and does the elder comply? Not that she was driving, but my grandmother often turned off her hearing aid, especially when she was “done” with an argument.
  3. Is there a helper (yard man, neighbor, relative) who can accompany the elder when s/he drives?

And if you want more conversation, here’s a link to ask to join our private Facebook group, where those of us who are, or were, or anticipate becoming caregivers discuss various topics.


If you’re not on Facebook—just post your comments below.  Feel free to share this and thanks!  You and I do deserve a badge for that!

New found freedom:  I gave up the car keys, and now I have a chauffeur!  It’s a shift in consciousness.  And it brings companionship along for the ride, too.

    2 replies to "Car keys part 2–strategies to know when it’s time to take the keys away"

    • Gay Ingram

      Informative blog. Just moved a brother who lived out-of-state closer because of hi failing capabilities. In the move, his car and driving abilities were left behind. My solution was to offer enough projects that keep him busy. His phone keeps him in touch with far-away friends. He still talks about getting about on his own but has accepted the no-car situation with grace.

      • Lissa

        oh, good! it may be “easier” with siblings than with the parent/child pair. thanks for connecting.

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