Should You Take Away a Senior’s Car Keys?

Seniors are usually reluctant to give up their car keys and recognize their inability to drive safely. To them, their ability to travel freely is a symbol of their independence — and it may be one of the last they have. The experience may be somewhat traumatic for them.

People age differently with varying levels of physical ailments and cognitive awareness. Some symptoms are serious enough to significantly impair driving. Some 19 seniors are killed and 712 injured in car accidents each day. Here are a few factors to consider that may indicate it’s time to give up the keys.

  • Vision problems – Driving ability can be hampered by conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. As one ages, the ability to perceive depth, judgment of speed, poor night vision and increased sensitivity to bright lights can hinder the ability to drive.
  • Lack of physical ability – Driving requires strength, dexterity, and flexibility to handle driving a vehicle. Trouble changing gears, inability to look over one’s shoulder and range of motion issues can all pose a problem. Some adults who are older may even experience drowsiness during the day.
  • Diseases and chronic conditions – Seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease, severe diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or sleep apnea may put their lives at risk by going behind a steering wheel due to impaired memory, decision-making, and cognition.
  • Medications – People taking medication to treat their conditions could find themselves with unpredictable side effects, which may be dangerous or risky. Certain medications slow down a person’s reaction time and may cause drowsiness. At least 75 percent of senior drivers take one or more medications, while two-thirds of them aren’t aware that side effects can impact driving.

Warning signs that mean it’s time for the talk

There are a few warning signs that indicate it may be time for a senior to consider giving up their keys. These include:

  • Difficulty driving at night or reduced peripheral vision
  • Erratic driving such as changing lanes abruptly, failing to use turn signals, or drifting on the wrong side of the road.
  • Getting lost on familiar roads.
  • Failing to notice cars or pedestrians, or trouble reading street signs.
  • An increase in near crashes and traffic tickets.

How to have the conversation with your loved one

One of the most difficult conversations you will have with your loved one is about giving up their car keys and no longer driving. This suggestion may be faced with objections and resistance. Remember to keep a soft and empathetic tone to ease tension and frustration. Your loved one isn’t likely to give up the keys if the discussion becomes heated.

Keep the discussion honest and supportive. Be sure to convey your concern about their safety. This will help your loved one realize that the aim of taking their keys away is not to control or demobilize them, but rather to ensure their safety. You may also want to advise them on alternative ways they can be transported, without compromising their independence.

Alternative transportation for seniors

  • Public transportation
  • Transportation networks such as Uber or Lyft.
  • Certain cities offer shuttle services specifically for seniors to help them get around town.
  • A senior-specialized service such as Envoy America that vets “Driver Companions” with background checks and an extensive screening process.

These transportation options would allow seniors to retain some independence and allow them to age in place. Maintaining independence and aging in their own home help improve a senior’s life expectancy and their quality of life. Consider getting your loved one a medical alert system which can provide them with emergency assistance while in the home and on the go as they utilize these alternative transportation options.

What to do if a senior insists on keeping their keys

Some seniors will not oblige and insist on keeping their keys. In this situation, they can consider getting a new car with several assistive technologies to improve their awareness and make their driving experience safer. Technology options that would benefit a senior include: automatic breaking assistance, rear-view cameras, rear cross traffic alert systems, blind spot warning systems, and forward collision warning.

Alternatively, they can consider installing an in-car medical alert system. Bay Alarm Medical’s Split Secnd in-car medical alert system can signal emergency personnel and transmit crash data immediately after a crash. It can also be used to provide the victim’s medical information to personnel, and provide location tracking to family members.

Fortunately, technology and resources have made it easier than ever for seniors to retain their independence. Safety devices, vehicle technology, and alternative transportation are easily accessible options that are valuable tools in keeping your loved ones safe.

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