Some conversations are more difficult than others. Figuring out when it’s time to talk to Mom about giving up her car keys is hard. Actually talking to Mom about not driving anymore is even more challenging. So when should you talk to Mom about not driving anymore? When is the right time to take away the keys? How should you go about having this important but tough conversation?
Signs and Inhibitors
Has Mom had any recent driving incidents such as wrecks or fender-benders? Have you noticed bumps, scrapes, or scratches on her car that she can’t explain? An increase in events like these may be a sign that you need to take the keys away, so be observant. Ride in the car with Mom. As her passenger, does she seem like a capable driver? Does she pay attention to and obey the rules of the road? Does she stay in the lanes? Does she swerve or have several near-misses? As an attentive passenger, your assessment of her driving skills may be the most important part of figuring out if Mom can and should continue to drive.
Health and Medications
There are a number of health problems and diseases that Mom could be experiencing that can affect her ability to continue to drive safely and responsibly. Certain health problems can prevent someone from being able to drive, such as poor eyesight, hearing loss, or diseases that impair movement, like arthritis. Diseases that affect the brain, like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, inhibit an individual’s reasoning abilities and/or their ability to read and interpret symbols. Dementia can also affect someone’s ability to remember or to understand the rules of driving.
There are many medications that cause dizziness, drowsiness, or have other side effects that make it unsafe for the user to drive. Make sure you know the side effects of the medications that Mom is taking. Talk to her doctor about whether or not it is safe for her to drive while she is using these medications. Talk to her doctor if she starts a new medication. Watch her carefully. Medications affect everyone differently. Mom may be much sleepier or more confused on a new prescription than someone else who is taking the same medicine.
How to Talk to Mom
Before You Talk to Mom
Remember, it is possible that Mom does not need to stop driving entirely. She may just need to cut back on her driving. Maybe Mom is ok when she is driving around town, but her doctor suggests that she no longer drive long distances anymore because she is less comfortable doing so. Then again, maybe declining health or an increase in recent traffic accidents has proven that Mom really should no longer be on the road. Consider these questions: How comfortable are you with Mom driving you around? How comfortable are you with her driving your kids around? If you do not want Mom to drive with you or with other loved ones as passengers, that may be a sign that Mom should not be driving at all.
Having this conversation is a big step. Being unable to drive is a major loss of independence. Do not approach this topic as something small. Know that Mom is going to be affected by this change in a big way. Without the ability to drive herself places, she will now have to find different ways to get around. She will be affected emotionally. Be prepared for Mom to get depressed. Depression is a normal response to this kind of major loss. Find a therapist who is available to talk to her before she gets depressed.
This talk should be candid. Instead of insisting that she give up her keys, try to get her to make the decision on her own. State your reasons and your observations, and explain why you think she should stop driving. List off all that apply: the side effects of her medications, her impaired vision and/or hearing, and any other limiting health conditions. Prepare documentation to back up your reasoning. Show her doctor’s reports and articles on certain health issues and how they affect one’s ability to drive.
Be considerate and understanding. Give Mom other options for transportation--yourself, other family members, public transit, specialized senior transit, or volunteer chauffeurs are all good options. The Community Transportation Association of America has several tips on finding transportation for Mom when she can no longer drive.
If Mom insists that she needs her driver’s license as a form of identification, tell her that her license can be exchanged for an identification card at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This identification card gives her the freedom to cash checks and perform any other daily task that requires personal identification.
If Mom Says No
No matter how sincere you are or how perfectly your documents prove your point, Mom may still say no. If she disagrees with you, you have several options. Make an appointment with her doctor and get them to explain why they think she shouldn’t be driving anymore or why she should cut down on her driving. You can contact her general practitioner, her eye doctor, her hearing doctor, or any other doctor who has medical proof of why Mom needs to give up her keys.
If Mom has a progressed form of dementia and there is no way to properly have this conversation with her, there are legal ways you can take the keys away from her. Sometimes, you can simply remove the keys from her presence, and that will solve the problem. Speak to your family attorney or to your local police about what you need to do, should Mom get ahold of car keys when she is not supposed to have them anymore. Some states allow you to go to the DMV and request that she be given a vision test, a written test, or even a road test with a driving inspector before she can renew her license. Health forms detailing why you are making this request are required for this type of situation. Depending on the state, your request may not remain anonymous, and Mom may be allowed to ask who submitted the initial request. For more information, read the DMV’s Elderly Driver Safety tips.