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Elderly Parent Refuses To Stop Driving: What Can We Do?

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Okay, I’ve been there with my own father, so I know how difficult it can be to try to get a senior (and older people in general) to surrender their car keys for good. They see it as giving up their independence; but family members see it as a way to keep them (and others) safe.

It’s hard to watch a loved one become more and more incapable of driving. You know that they are getting older, but you also want them to be independent for as long as possible. It can feel like your hands are tied when you try to take the keys away from them because they need their independence. As a son or daughter, how do you deal with trying to stop an elderly parent from driving?

What Can You Do To Stop Your Elderly Parent From Driving?

It’s a struggle for adult children when an aging parent is stubborn and refuses to stop driving. But, you can probably see it from their perspective. They don’t want to stop because doing so means that they’ll be giving up a lot of their freedom in the process.

On the other hand, you certainly don’t want them to get into an accident and get hurt – or even more unthinkable – injure someone else.

Trust me, it’s a struggle to get senior drivers to give up their car keys.

“Driving can often be considered one of the last symbols of independence for older adults,” said Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care. “The keys to keeping older drivers safe and independent are to continually assess a loved one’s abilities, communicate concerns and plan ways to transition driving practices, if needed.”

Home Instead Senior Care

4 Strategies Family Caregivers Can Use To Help Keep Elderly Drivers Off The Road

  1. Get your physician involved – a consultation with a physician may help to convince your elderly parent that they are no longer safe behind the wheel of their car.
  2. Consult with an elder law attorney – a consultation with an elder law attorney may scare them straight. A presentation of different scenarios that could occur if they were to get into an auto accident while driving may be enough to get them to stop driving.
  3. Therapeutic fibbing – if your senior parent is suffering from mild dementia you may be able to get away with some little white lies such as “the car is in the shop” or “the keys to the car are lost”.
  4. Report an unsafe driver – this approach involves your state DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). They’re responsible for handling any complaints filed by family members and other caregivers when someone is unsafe on the road. In order to do this they’ll investigate that person’s history of safe driving with a visual examination or written test.

For a little more help, take a look at the AARP free online seminar that can help you to assess your senior loved one’s driving ability, which is a good first step.

This “We Need To Talk” resource also gives you some ideas for how to have this important discussion about convincing elderly parents to stop driving.

11 Tips On How To Talk To An Elderly Parent About Driving?

Sometimes it’s not easy to have difficult conversations with our aging parents (especially since they are used to telling us what to do, not the other way around!).

I know it can be hard to talk to an elderly parent about not being able to drive anymore, but you need to have that conversation. It’s a tough situation for everyone involved.

When the time comes, here are some tips that can make it a little easier to have “the talk” with your parent:

  1. Get your facts straight. If your aging parent has health conditions or a medical problem that can impede their safe driving abilities, it’s important to mention the consequences that could come up if they get behind the wheel.
  2. Take the legal approach. Check with an elder law attorney in your state to find out what would / could happen if your parent were to cause an accident while driving? Would pre-existing conditions be used against them? Is their physical condition a factor? Could they be sued and lose all their savings?
  3. Plan out your approach. Talk to your parent about giving up their driver’s license when you are both calm. Do it during a quiet time of day, not when you’ll be rushing out the door. In other words don’t drop the bomb that they need to stop driving while you’re buttoning your coat and waving good-bye. Remember that it’s highly unlikely your parent will hand over the car keys after your first conversation. Treat this as a way to open the discussion.
  4. Speak with respect. Don’t wait until things have gotten so urgent that you feel like your parent has to surrender their license immediately. Also, keep in mind that yelling isn’t going to solve anything. No one wants to be bullied. Social worker Lissa Kapust, MSW, LICSW recommends using phrases like “driving retirement.” It seems more gentle than just “take the keys”.
  5. Calmly ask questions to start the conversation. For example, you could ask, “Dad, how are you feeling about driving lately? Do you have any concerns?” If you can focus this discussion on their thoughts about their concerns and their medical conditions, it may help to keep the conversation civil.
  6. Listen to those concerns and read between the lines. When I asked my father if he was worried about anything in regards to driving, he told me his driving was “fine.” He said he was glad, too, because if he couldn’t drive, he would have to impose on me. Clearly, he didn’t want to do that. I was able to use that knowledge to give him ideas about how we could keep that from happening.
  7. Don’t patronize your parent with blanket reassurances. Saying, “things will be fine,” doesn’t help. Instead, work through their concerns with real solutions. Sometimes a pros and cons list can help them see that there are good things about giving up their license. An example could be saving on car insurance and vehicle maintenance. Be sure to point out the “cons”! For example, an accident could be fatal to them or someone else. Knowing the cons could be an important thing that can help the senior face reality.
  8. Investigate options.
    • Will taking a senior driving course help?
    • How about a new hearing aid or new prescription glasses?
    • What if they stayed within a five-mile radius or gave up driving at night?
    • Could they learn how to use a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft?
    • Do they have a friend who can drive them?
    • There may be some options for free or low cost transportation in their community.
  9. Go on some rideshares with them. If they are open to the idea of using a ride sharing service but are intimidated at the thought of it, you might try using Uber or Lyft to go on a few errands or outings with your parents. It will be easier to have you with them to show how it’s done. Once they see that it is really simple to ride share, they may warm up to giving up their keys.
  10. Be patient. Give them time to get used to the idea of stopping driving and let them adjust to something they don’t want to face. Waiting allows your parent to think things over. Remember that you might need to revisit the subject several times over a few months.
  11. Know when to stop pushing the idea. Temporarily drop the subject if your parent gets angry. You aren’t getting through to them at that point anyhow. Wait a couple of weeks, then calmly bring up the subject again.

Pros And Cons Of Retesting Elderly Drivers

If you feel like your older parent’s driving ability isn’t what it used to be and that they are now an unsafe driver, you can always start the “you shouldn’t drive anymore” conversation by mentioning that it could be good to get retested. That way, you’ll feel better if they pass the test and you’ll have leverage to ask them to give up the keys if they fail.

There are some pros and cons to retesting elderly drivers that you should be aware of:

Pros

  • Age isn’t always a factor – some people can drive better at 85 than their younger 25 year-old counterparts. A driving retest could show that they are on top of the driving game.
  • If they pass a driving retest, you’ll know that your parent is still safe to drive.

Cons

  • The people who conduct driver’s test are human. They may overlook something or give the senior the benefit of the doubt, or miss that the person has a physical concern that could impact their driving ability.
  • If you really wanted them to give up the keys, you will no longer have an argument against driving if your parent passes a driver’s test.
  • If they fail the driving test, they would lose the ability to get around. That may mean you will need to step up to take them to the grocery store and other places. If you can’t, you’ll need to help them investigate how they will get from points A to Z.
  • The elder’s health may suffer if they lose their license. That loss delivers a huge blow – to their ego and sense of self, as well as to their independence. On top of that, they may not visit a doctor as often as they should and their social life may also decline, which raises the chance of depression.

Driving Evaluations By Certified Driver Specialists

Instead of insisting on retesting, you can talk to a certified driver specialist. They are experts at assessing senior motor skills, their cognition, and will do driver evaluations by taking your parent out for an on-the-road test of their driving ability.

To find a certified specialist in your area, visit AAA Foundation for Driver Safety.

Driving Evaluations By An Occupational Therapist

You can also get a referral from your physician for Occupational Therapy services to assess your driving skills.

An occupational therapist who has specialized training in driver rehabilitation, can administer comprehensive evaluations to see what’s needed for safe and effective road use. The evaluation typically includes two parts:

  • part one with a therapist in their office or clinic evaluating physical abilities required for safe driving like hand strength; vision needs including peripheral and depth perception; reaction time; cognitive skills related to memory retrieval, decision-making processing speed, problem solving strategies and more.
  • part two involves going out on the road behind the steering wheel of a car that is equipped with an instructor’s brake, for safety.

The purpose of these evaluations is to see if there is any way to improve someone’s driving abilities and help to avoid possible car accidents.

Of course, these tests also can provide proof that your older parent simply is no longer able to drive safely.

Can A Doctor Stop An Elderly Person From Driving?

Each state in the USA has different requirements on this topic. We recommend that you review the list on our article on Elderly Driving Laws By State to see what the laws are in your location.

I bet you didn’t know that there are some states (Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont) where it’s not required to take a vision test for your driver’s license!

Also, if you have questions, it would not hurt to consult an elder law attorney. They may tell you that you would need a second opinion from another physician, so be aware of that.

Normally, it’s the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in your county who will make that final decision but of course, if they receive a letter from a physician, that will play a part in that decision making process.

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