When is it time? How will you know? And how can I accomplish this without causing a global crisis?  ok, hopefully that's an exaggeration.

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

For the adult children and/or friends, neighbors, colleagues of the elder, there’s the emotion of fear.  This is mostly “will the elder get in an accident and hurt/kill him/herself and/or others.”  You and I all know of accidents that happened, or almost happened, or coulda happened.  My father used to say of his mother that "she followed the radiator cap down the road" cuz she could barely see THROUGH the steering wheel... but how do we convince our elder that it's best that s/he does not drive anymore?

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.  Hmm.

For the elder, it’s about two main emotions: freedom and sadness.  And sometimes anger.  Let’s discuss the first element, freedom, here today and save the others for a later time.

Let’s face it, being able to jump in our cars and go somewhere is something that many of us have enjoyed since our teenage years.  The loss of this activity can be experienced as a huge restriction on someone’s freedom.  What if I just want to go to the library and get a new book to read?  What if I've just run out of cat food, or worse yet, cat litter?  What if I just discovered that the milk has spoiled?  I don't want to always be bothering my neighbor, or my daughter?  It's just around the corner!!!

Wow, we can relate to that—even if you or I live in a city where we’re more prone to take transit instead of driving.  It’s ingrained into us, the freedom to just go when and where we want to.  It could be that we have a destination in mind, or we’re just going for a drive.  If someone takes that away from me, that could easily make me angry.

So, how do we know when it’s time?  Are you beginning to hear any comments like these in passing conversation?

“of course, I’m careful”

“I only drive during the day now”

“I never drive alone” – this one could be good or not so good, depending…

“they don’t understand” – that may or may not be the case.

These might be an indication that we pay more attention, before the fender-bender (or worse) occurs.

With time, there can be a 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.

So, what has been your experience?  We’re going to cover some of the other elements in subsequent posts.  Share your story or question, and let’s start the conversation.

On a lighter note, here’s one of my stories:  After my mother passed, I drove my father to renew his license just before his 90th birthday.  He was using a walker and not driving anymore; we both thought it would be a good idea to get it renewed for ID purposes.  He passed the eye exam, and he received the renewal, as there was no driving test.  Later he would entertain his friends at the retirement home, saying how silly* the DMV was to give him a renewed license.  [*and sometimes he described the DMV with stronger words, including “stupid”, etc…]

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.


Don’t do Facebook—just post your comments below.  And share this and thanks!  You and I do deserve a badge for that  🙂

    14 replies to "Do I need to take the car keys? part 1"

    • Ronda

      I was lucky. Dad said it would be time to stop driving when he hit something. He hit an empty school but, called each of us and didn’t buy another car. He was in his mid 90’s. He was very creative in his follow up to no longer driving. Did well in assisted living and lived till 2 months before he was 104.

      • ldulany

        TG it was an empty school bus! creativity really helps–it gets to the “differently capable” discussion, as opposed to being “less than”. that’s significant personal growth–what a role model for you also!

    • Saskia Riet

      For me, it’s never been about driving, car keys or such like… However, I totally resonate with your entire post here. My dad had to be saved from himself. I had to take over his accounts and financial admin… Salvaging his financial future, saving him from being evicted from his home, getting a professional involved to deal with the ever-increasing debts. Him having been trained as a lawyer, and having worked as a high-level banking consultant overlooking businesses who took out investment loans worth millions… and who had his bookkeeping in impeccable order … this was a major move for me. Gave me many, many sleepless nights… but his overspending, reckless financial choices made it a necessary move… Thank you for raising this highly relevant issue.

      • ldulany

        huge huge topic. this will be another topic for the blog–one of my 68 topics, and I learned while writing Part 1 that the topics are many more! thanks for your candor, Lissa

    • Andrea Feinberg

      Such an important topic, Lissa! For my mother in law, it was an easy choice: she drove into a tree that had been standing along her route for 35 years….That was the end of her driving career and the beginning of the conversation of a nursing home. For my 88 year old mom, I think she’ll come to this choice herself as she’s quite realistic about changes in her sense of safety, vision and energy. And what about for me? Oy, decades away!!

      • ldulany

        thanks, I’m excited about starting the conversations. bummer about the tree. My mom was realistic, and if dad wasn’t, his physical strength declined, so he couldn’t drive. They were a good team for years–more about that in the next part 2.

    • Anne O'Brien

      Fortunately, my parents (New York City folks) never needed a car, so neither they nor we faced this problem. I can imagine, however, the anxiety confronting us suburbanites when we face it. Enormous. Life-changing. Scary.

      Ray of hope: a ninety year old friend drove herself back and forth to Florida — alone. Lucky lady.

      • ldulany

        Anne, thanks for responding with your story! yes, urbanites have a different issue: getting confused on the subway–happens with all of us! will I see you in Boston?
        all the best to you and Ron, Lissa

    • Trish Carr

      It was hard to take the keys from my mother-in-law and from my grandmother. They both were resistant even though they both really knew it was time. It’s not easy to take away that level of freedom. My mother on the other hand was happy to let her keys go. Thanks for this insightful, conversation starting, thought provoking article Lissa!

      • ldulany

        Trish, thanks for your response–and story. and the conversation is just getting started!

    • Renee Pedigo

      When my father went to have lunch at the VA hospital, a place he worked for over 20 years, with a former co worker and it took him 4 hours to make the 20 minute trip home we knew it was time. I took his car to make a road trip up north as it was newer than mine. Somehow I just never returned it. This was with my mother and brother’s consent. My father never asked for it back either. However, when the time came it wasn’t so easy for my me with my mother. I found out through a friend that she was having trouble getting home from the grocery and the drugstore both of which were less than 2 miles from her house. I don’t remember exactly whether I took the keys away or just hid them in plain sight but she was not happy about it. At the time my father was rapidly heading into the last stages of Dementia and my mother was experiencing more Sundowners and more Dementia symptoms. It was craziness for sure.

      • ldulany

        wow, yes. and the situation is complicated by the part that you talk about–we may not be living nearby and/or able to observe the changes as they occur. thanks for sharing your story!

    • Louisa Bailey

      Hey Lissa! 4 years ago, my dad was meeting his best friend for lunch. He turned left and drove up a 4-lane one way road into oncoming traffic. He managed to crash/total the car off to the side into some equipment. Thank God he didn’t hit anyone or injure himself. The State took his liscense away so we never had to address it with him. He never talked about it, but it was the end of everything for him. Depression & illness set in. He gave up. My dad used to be the “mayor.” He knew everyone in town. One night my mom started crying. She said he wanted to leave choir practice early so he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. My dad loved to talk and tell stories, so the silence has been very difficult for us. He’s in home hospice now. I want things to be different for my mom. I think it starts by having a conversation now. She’s still driving at 82, but there are so many great options. I think my mom will be receptive to having a car service pick her up to take her places. It’s all a state of mind. Old age doesn’t have to mean loss of independence. My brother and I help as much as we can, but we can’t be there 24-7. Car services are expensive when you’re on a fixed income, but I won’t mind giving her the money. It’s worth it for my peace of mind. I just have to show her how to get the apps on her phone. Remembering that password will be a challenge for her, but she’s already figured out how to have groceries, prescriptions and wine delivered! I’m really proud of her.

      • Lissa

        Louisa, thanks so much for writing this, and I apologize for my untimely response. And you’re in the right and perfect place now. All the best to you, and your mom and dad. I know how much you cherish them.

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