What Happens When you Take the Keys Away from a Senior Driver

Our team has worked with hundreds of families through the process of dealing with a senior driver. Sometimes they come to us wondering if their concerns are merited. Or, at other times they have tried taking away the keys or disabling the car to no avail. Some families are at odds over whether there is a problem with the senior driver.

So, we’ve seen what happens during the process of taking the car keys away. Our team also shares tips to avoid some of these pitfalls when dealing with a senior driver you think should stop driving.

Here’s what we often see happen:

1. The senior driver may just start driving again.

The first piece to understand is that if the senior driver isn’t in agreement (even if reluctantly), they will often find a way to start driving again. Years ago, a family called us when their Mom with dementia went out and purchased another car after they sold hers. They were astounded because her dementia was well beyond the early stages. First, that she could manage the process. And, second, that the salesman would sell her a car. But, we’ve also seen the senior driver using a neighbor’s car, fixing whatever the kids did to disable the car, and all sorts of resourcefulness.

Without some “buy in” from the senior driver, you’ll likely experience this outcome. Thus, we work with a lot of families on this process and the right approach. See #3 for more details.

2. The elder will become isolated, less active and their mental and physical health may suffer.

A study in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Science showed elders who drive are three times as likely to visit friends and families and attend social outings. Seniors who give up driving participate in significantly fewer social activities. And, this can have serious consequences. “Social participation in old age is linked with both physical and mental health benefits,” noted study author Teja Pristavec, a sociology researcher at Rutgers University.

Another study specifically focused on social isolation, not just participation in activities. Compared to active drivers, nondrivers had twice the odds of being in a higher social isolation category. Social isolation scores increased significantly when seniors stopped driving and then persisted during the study’s six-year evaluation. So, giving up the car keys can have long-term effects.

Of course, the senior driver does not have to become isolated when they stop driving. This is where good planning comes into play.

3. With proper planning, the senior driver and the senior non-driver can live equally fulfilling and healthy lives.

Our experts suggest the following so you can achieve peace of mind, keep your parent safe, and ensure taking away the keys does not harm their wellbeing. You want giving up the keys to help, not harm your loved one.

The first step is how to determine if it is the right time. And, is it time to give up the keys all together or just put some safety limits on driving?

You can start by reviewing signs your loved one may not be safe to drive. Age by itself does not determine driver safety. But, if you have concrete concerns, that usually means there is a problem. You can try a senior driver self-assessment to get a better picture. Finally, consider getting a complete assessment and possibly an official driver assessment. Some modifications and driver rehab may allow a person to continue driving safely.

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The next step is how to approach the conversation.

Every person is a bit different and your approach should be personalized to your parent. Over the years, this is one of the more common reasons families get in touch with us. We help guide them through the process with suggestions, resources, serving as a liaison for family discussions, and creating a strategy and plan.

The process may include having several family meetings to discuss the issue and options, bringing in professionals to help with the discussion and expertise, and getting an independent driving assessment.

In some cases, families may need to make things official by reporting the person as an unsafe driver. This is an anonymous process, but it does take some time.

Make a personal post-driving plan.

Perhaps the most overlooked, yet vital, part of this process is the post-driving plan. Too often, families simply offer that they or neighbors can help with rides. Maybe they plan to take their parent out on errands weekly and to doctor’s appointments. But, relying on family and friends still tends to isolate the elder. This might make them feel dependent and limited.

Fortunately, however, we have a lot of options for senior transportation. Families should work to set these up to make the transition easier. Check out our post about senior transportation options in St. Pete to get an idea of the local options. Your elderly loved one can even use Lyft without a smartphone to get rides on demand. In most cases, a combination of options offers the elder greater freedom. A good plan can mitigate the negative effects when the senior driver gives up the keys. This is why we call our senior transportation services “Drive to Thrive”.