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Driving is a privilege that we sometimes take for granted. We just jump in our car and go, not thinking about how disruptive it would be to our busy lives if we were not able to drive. Driving really is our connection to the world. It gets us to work, to the grocery store, to the doctor, to social events and outings, and so much more. I work a lot with families who are struggling to get their aging loved one to give up the car keys. The family has their loved one’s safety and the community’s safety always in mind when faced with this battle, but I think sometimes it is overlooked what this really means to the senior. It is very important to be sensitive to how significant the driver’s license is to an older adult.


Often times, seniors are more reluctant to give up their driving privilege than asking them to move out of their home. It is often viewed as the final piece of losing their independence. When you think about how isolated you would feel without the ability to drive, then you can start to understand why this is so hard for them. Most of the seniors I work with do not just wake up one day and call their family to say “I have decided to stop driving.” It would be nice for families if this is how it happened, but most families will have to bring this to their loved one’s attention. This process can be very stressful on everyone involved.  


I would encourage you to have a discussion about driving long before the person is faced with needing to give it up. I would tell a family to ask their loved one, just like you would on an advanced directive, to spell out when they think it would be best to stop driving. A person might write down that they would want a doctor’s recommendation, or they may list several health impairments that would cause safety issues while driving. They also should designate a particular person to initiate this discussion when the time comes. At the point that a family then needs to have this conversation, they can pull out the document from that discussion and remind them that these were their wishes in advance. If this is not in place or has not worked, then I would encourage a family to use a professional if possible. We all tend to take advice or recommendations better from a professional then from our family members. The driver’s license facility may assist in this process through testing; the physician or senior care manager could also assist in this discussion. There is also a very helpful website – www.seniordriving.aaa.com – that has a large amount of tools and resources to help seniors and families with this difficult situation.  


Seniors do not want to intentionally hurt someone else or themselves by driving. Keep reiterating the seriousness of an accident and why you feel safety is now a concern. Usually people will come to terms with this decision knowing they are putting others at risk.    


The most important piece of all of this is to have a plan in place to keep the person from being isolated.  Don’t just take the keys and leave them stranded.  Nobody wants to feel dependent on others, and it isn’t healthy for a senior to be isolated either. Do your research in the area and know what transportation options are available for seniors. In this area, it is very limited for people who live in the country or in rural small towns, but there are options.  


Western Illinois Home Health Care is a full-service provider in your area. Care plans can be designed to assist with your transportation needs. If you, or someone you know, are in need of in-home services, please call our office at 1-800-228-5993.


Amanda Powell, BSW is Senior Care Manager for Western Illinois Home Health Care


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Turning in the Car Keys

April 2014

by Amanda Powell