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How to Take the Keys?

A common discussion amongst caregivers is “should my love one still be driving?”  Usually when the first snowflake flies elderly loved ones voluntarily put away their keys, but just as Robins return in the spring so does their urge to get out and go.

Caregivers are often the first to see signs that their loved one may be having difficulty driving.  Perhaps it is their reflexes slowing down or their vision giving them problems or that they no longer remember simple directions.  It is important to be considerate of your loved ones feelings, as well as your own.

Just as it is hard to hand your keys over to your sixteen-year-old, it will be just as heart wrenching to take the keys from your loved ones’ hands.  That is why it is important to evaluate all aspects of your loved one’s driving skills.  Here are a few things to think about:

How does your loved one act when not behind the wheel? Is your loved one able to make conscious decisions about their daily activities (i.e. still able to make dinner, get dressed appropriately, remembers where the keys are etc…)?  Can your loved one can still multi-task?  This is especially important if they are driving on multi-lane roads.

How do they react when riding in the car with others? Are they easily distracted or oblivious as to what is happening around them?  Can they give you directions?  Do they become tense or agitated by surrounding vehicles or detours?  Do they buckle their seat belt on their own?

How much time do they actually spend driving?  In many cases, your loved one may have already begun to reduce their driving.  If this is the case, having a conversation about their comfort level might be the best route to take.  You may find that your loved one would feel more at ease if they no longer had to drive, but simply don’t want to impose on you or others for rides.

What medications are they taking?  None of us wants to be on the road with someone who is in an altered state.  Therefore, it is important to know what medications your loved one is currently taking and how they may affect their driving.  Many medications, including common Alzheimer’s medications, urge using caution when driving.  Caution does not mean do not, but safety experts say that a growing problem seems to be in the number of medicated older drivers on the road.  Remember the more medications your loved one is taking the higher the probability that they should no longer be driving.

Usually the hardest part of this process is in the actual taking away of the keys.  Luckily, there are many ways to tackle this issue.  The easiest for caregivers is to talk privately with your loved ones Doctor and have them contact the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will then send a letter to your loved one informing them that they need to come in to be tested.  Usually this results in them not going to the appointment and therefore voluntarily giving up their driving privileges.  In the event that your loved one does pass, the license may come with restrictions.

While it is always recommended that you talk with your loved one, sometimes this simply does not work, especially in caring for those with memory loss.  Other ways that families have successfully addressed this issue were to disable their loved ones car; asking their loved one to give their car to someone in need; taking the car to another location or having a family member, who is mostly out of the caregiving picture, take the keys thereby taking the burden off the primary caregiver.

In a perfect world, your loved one would simply turn over the keys voluntarily, but the truth of the matter is pride often gets in the way.  It is important to remember that your loved one may not be in the best place to judge whether they should be driving.  As their caregiver it is up to you watch out for them and everyone else on the road.  All of our lives depend on it.


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