When is it Time to Take Away the Keys: Providing Help for Concerned Families.


Oct 3, 2012 | Programming & Outreach

When a physician tells a patient it’s time to hang up the keys to the car, there’s an “immediate, substantial and sustained” reduction in that patient’s likelihood of being in a motor vehicle accident that requires a trip to the emergency department, a new study found.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on September 27, 2012 showed that compared to older drivers who had not (yet) been urged by their physician to curtail or discontinue their driving, those who had received such counsel were 45% less likely to be behind the wheel in a car accident that resulted in a trip to the hospital. “These data suggest that warning drivers who are medically unfit to drive may reduce the risk of road crashes,” wrote the authors.

The Caregivers Dilemma

Caregivers often struggle with the decision whether to take the car keys away from a loved that may be at the point of endangering themselves and others. Ginny Helms, Vice President of Chapter Services and Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, “This is because no one wants to take away the independence that comes with driving, and because there is a gray area when it is difficult to know for sure whether or not it is safe for the person to drive.”

Signs That It’s Time

Signs that it may be time for a serious conversation include:

  • Finding dents, scratches on car, posts mail boxes, garage door, etc
  • Failure to observe traffic laws and signals
  • Making poor or slow decisions
  • Driving too fast or too slowly
  • Loss of coordination
  • Problems judging distance and space
  • Trouble handling more than one task at a time
  • Staying alert
  • Confusing the gas and brake pedals
  • Frequent “close” calls
  • Having a difficult time with changing lanes, backing up, checking rear view mirror

Useful Advice To Reduce Friction in the Family

There is no accepted script for how this uncomfortable yet crucial conversation should go. However, driving and the decision to take away driving privileges don’t have to be contentious for families. Physicians and driving assessment centers can play an objective, impartial role in determining the appropriate course of action. By being armed with this information, senior living communities can play an important advisory role by informing concerned families of the expert resources available to them, which can also mitigate personal tensions with their loved ones.

Experts believe that when the uncomfortable time arrives to address the issue, it is best for all concerned to have the loved one’s doctor at the forefront of the decision. This approach takes advantage of the physician’s implied authority in the relationship with the loved one, and also takes the pressure off of the adult children who are placed in a very difficult position. Driving Assessment Centers can also play a key role in taking pressure off of family members. Experts at the Assessment Centers provide an objective, unbiased analysis of the aging driver’s competency that can help defuse the heated disagreements that can arise between parent and adult child when the issue of taking away the keys is discussed.

Senior living communities are in a unique position to help resolve this difficult issue by guiding families and their loved ones to resources that can provide an independent, professional solution to the problem.

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