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

Elderly man refuses to stop driving.

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

Ideally, experts say that you’ll want to have the conversation about when to stop driving long before there is a problem or concern.

This way, you’re laying the foundations and , hopefully, forming a plan to address the situation once it comes.

But, most of us don’t think to do that (I know I didn’t!).

So, if you have reached the point of concern, try the following ideas:

  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.

Read our article, Can People With Dementia Drive?.

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!).

“Families and children would rather talk about funeral plans and selling a house before they would talk about taking away the keys from their adult drivers.” Explains David Bernstein, MD.

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 Their 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.

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