3 Big Warning Signs Your Aging Parent Should Stop Driving

Few things symbolize our independence like driving a car when and where we want to. For aging parents, there is nearly always an end to that independence at some point. But when do they reach that point? Often, aging parents’ gradual decline in ability can be hard to spot when adult children don’t live with them.

In my own family, we were fortunate. My mother-in-law, Alice lived to be 96. When she finally relented at age 93, and moved into a seniors’ community, she voluntarily gave up the car. We breathed a sigh of relief and sold it promptly. For lots of other elders we hear about at AgingParents.com, the issue of driving is a battle. Mom, Dad or your grandparent refuses to stop. Pleas don’t work. Resistance and anger at the suggestion are common. “I’m fine!” the aging parent will say, when everyone around them knows they’re not fine, especially behind the wheel.

When You Know It’s Time For Them To Stop Driving

The Red Flags

There are a lot of red flags that put families on notice of a problem with driving. We encourage you, as family to not let these things slide. A car in the wrong hands can be a dangerous weapon. Here are my top three warning signs:

  1. Getting lost coming home to where they’ve lived for years. This a sign of confusion, one of the hallmarks of dementia. Whether that’s the cause of confusion or not, it is certainly a clear danger sign. Confusion behind the wheel should not continue.
  2. Frequent fender-bender accidents. These may not result in police reports nor major damage to the car but they are indicators of poor depth perception, vision issues or other age-related changes. Don’t wait for a major accident to say it’s time to stop driving. Smaller, repeated accidents are advance notice of something serious that could hurt your loved one or someone else.
  3. A diagnosis of dementia. Early stage cognitive changes may not mean that an elder must immediately stop driving, but with this diagnosis, it’s time to set a date to stop. Sit down with your loved one and choose a date within a year of the diagnosis that they will give up the car keys. Ignoring the need could result in serious injury or death from dangerous driving by a person whom you know is impaired.

How Can You Get A Stubborn Elder To Stop Driving?

We lay out a five-step plan in my book, The Family Guide to Aging Parents. The effort starts with conversation and leads to escalating it with allies, intervention and sometimes, legal action. In CA, anyone can request that an apparently impaired driver be re-tested for driving ability by the Department of Motor Vehicles. See this form. You can submit it anonymously.

The Consequences Of Giving Up Driving

When family does succeed in persuading an impaired elder to stop driving, they are still likely going to need transportation. For folks living in rural areas, there may not be the convenience of UberUBER or Lyft and family has to assume the responsibility of getting your aging parent where they need to go. For those in urban and suburban areas, those summoned vehicles can solve the problem well. For our Alice, we had to get her a smart phone and teach her to get a car when she wanted one after she quit driving. She did learn. For those who can’t learn how to get a car on the phone app to take them anywhere, you may be able to arrange it with the provider in advance for them by reserving it at an appointed time. Taxis remain an option as well. Think through all ways to prevent your aging parent from becoming isolated. That isn’t good for anyone.

Related: Will Artificial Intelligence Help or Hurt Our Aging Parents?