How to decide when it’s time to take a senior’s keys
The day a 16-year-old gets her drivers’ license is the most exciting day thus far in her life. The day a senior citizen loses his license due to aging, impaired abilities or perhaps dementia is one of the worst.
Telling a patient it’s time to surrender the car keys and drivers’ license can be traumatic, both for the patient and the family, said Dr. Deborah Hellums, a Clarksville internal medicine physician whose practice includes an ever-increasing number of senior citizens.
“Usually, it’s a family member who brings up the driving topic with the doctor,” Hellums said. “A spouse, son or daughter, or some family member, notices a change in the behaviors of their loved one. Changes can be in the physical or mental skills of the person or both.”
There are a lot of signs to watch for when deciding whether it’s time, and it’s not about age alone. A grandfather at 85 might be a safer and better driver than his granddaughter at 35.
“Just because someone is of advanced age chronologically does not mean they should give up driving,” Hellums said.
The determining factor will likely be a visit to the physician.
“A physician will check both vision and hearing, look for decreased neurological and cognitive abilities, examine the muscular-skeleton system, and another very important consideration is reviewing the medications being taken by the person.”
Recent driving history or history of accidents is a critical factor.
“Family members need to be aware of vision problems, recent falls or accidents, and behavioral issues. Maybe the person has had a recent vehicle accident or tickets. The person who stands to lose their license may not be aware of the different symptoms indicating it is time to stop driving. It is a difficult decision.”
One bit of advice: Keep the opening conversation casual, without turning it into a confrontation.
“It’s important to take the lead in a discussion as important as surrendering the car keys. Approach the person in the same friendly conversational tone you use in any conversation,” Hellums said. “Ask the person how they feel about driving in these days of heavy traffic, or does being on the interstate bother them?”
It should also be an ongoing conversation that evolves, not one that starts with the need to stop driving.
“You want to gauge their thinking and not just say you are taking their keys and license away. That is upsetting. When the time arrives for a person to quit driving it will be an emotional decision that means the loss of freedom and independence. This is time to show concern and compassion and begin the discussion about alternative means of transportation.”
And keep in mind, the decision to stop driving impacts more than just the senior who is no longer driving. It also affects family and friends who will become the new method of transportation.
Here are some online resources to help with the decision:
- Tntrafficsafety.org/seniors. On driving habits, safety, driving tests for seniors, and information on Tennessee laws about reporting a driver who is a public safety problem.
- Alz.org/driving. On drivers with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Aarpdriversafety.org. On improving driving skills, online courses, tips for auto safety.
- Vanderbilthealth.com/billwilkerson. On hearing loss as a major reason for impaired driving.
- Nhtsa.gov/road-safety/older-drivers. On rules and regulations of the road.
- Rightathometn.com. Additional resources for driving concerns.
For more, contact Hellums through Right at Home TN, 931-896-2682, 130 Hillcrest Drive, Suite 106.