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Helping Your Parent
Give Up the Car Keys
We're a nation of drivers. We define
ourselves by the automobiles we choose. I'm wealthy; I can afford the
latest luxury sedan. I'm concerned about the environment, I tool
around in a gas/electric hybrid. I'm adventurous; I load up my SUV and
head for the hills. And on and on.
In the United States, getting one's driver's
license is more than obtaining the state's permission to operate a
motor vehicle. Every sixteen-year-old knows it's a rite a passage. A
giant step on the road to adulthood. A key to independence. A time to
In the same way, losing one's driver's
license, losing access to one's own car, is more than forfeiting the
state's or the family's permission to drive. Every elderly driver
knows that this too, is a rite of passage. It's seen as a giant step
on the road to one's final days. A tremendous loss of independence. A
time to mourn.
It isn't easy on families when the day comes
that an adult child must tell an aging parent that it's no longer safe
for him or her to drive. It's a sad time for both.
In many families—perhaps most—it was a
parent who taught the children, one by one, how to drive. A child felt
safe with Mom or Dad at the wheel. But the aging process—that
gradual and, in most cases, inevitable deterioration in vision,
hearing and reaction time—changes that.
If an older person has some general
confusion, a distraction, a minor irritant in everyday home life can
be dangerous or even fatal when it comes to driving.
Again and again, you must ask: Is this safe?
Is it safe for my parent to keep driving? Is he in danger of harming
himself and also of harming others?
It's the lucky family that has an older
parent who realizes and can admit the physical limitations that have
occurred, who understands the danger to himself or herself and others,
who voluntarily says, "I can no longer drive."
Unfortunately, sometimes those who have
become least capable, those at the highest risk, can be the ones who
not only refuse to admit any problems but refuse to even discuss the
possibility with a concerned adult child. And self-imposed
restrictions. "I don't go out on the freeway," "I don't
go down that busy street," "I don't go out at night"
might offer only a false sense of security.
These are some suggestions if you're
concerned about your parent's driving:
● Talk with Mom about your concerns
with her driving, early, before the situation is critical. Let her
know that when she is no longer able to drive, you will be available
to help her get around or to arrange rides.
● Watch the news reports.
Unfortunately, reports on accidents involving older drivers are not
uncommon. This can be the catalyst to start the conversation. An
approach might be "In the future . . . ."
● Don’t swoop in one day and
confiscate the car keys. This almost guarantees anger, resentment,
and a nearly total lack of cooperation.
● Prepare what you're going to say.
Stick to the facts. (Accidents, close calls, rising insurance rates,
failing eyesight and so on.) Don't get caught up in your parent's
anger and begin firing back.
● Enlist the help of your parent's
doctor to explain why this action is necessary.
● If Dad has given you power of
attorney, refer to that when discussing this issue, not as a threat
but as a reminder that he trusts your judgment. If someone else has
power of attorney, ask that person to help you with the discussion.
● Check with the Department of Motor
Vehicles in your state. Ask what the procedure is for reporting your
concerns. As drivers become older and older, many states have
implemented plans to address this issue. (Also, ask about getting
photo ID that is not a driver’s license.)
● Perhaps most important of all, keep
in mind that you cannot take away the car keys without actually
providing some backup. You need to help your parent figure out how he
or she is going to get around now. When can you drive? When can your
siblings? When can your spouse or children? Can someone in your parish
help out? What about neighbors or friends? Are taxis or buses a
possibility? Call the local Senior Information and Assistance number
to find out about special low-cost van rides for the elderly.
● The goal is not to take away
the keys, but rather that your parent has decided to stop driving. Do
your research and gather information about older drivers. AARP and
most insurance companies have materials already prepared. With that
information in hand, your parent better realizes that your suggestions, your
concerns are valid. It becomes his or her decision and resistance
doesn’t play a part.
● And, finally, know that your love,
respect and concern can ease your parent's sense of loss, but can't
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