Do you remember how wonderful you felt the day you received your license? Driving is integral to our independence and self-esteem — and is an activity that so many of us take for granted.

While some older adults may give up driving fairly easily, others may feel overwhelmed and find the transition extremely difficult to manage.

How can you sensitively navigate taking the keys away from your loved one – and when is it the right time to do so?

A Four-Step Guide To Taking The Keys Away

Theia’s client coordinators share their four-step guide to help you through the difficult process of taking the keys away from your loved one.

1.  Identify Risk Factors Prior to becoming an unsafe driver, an older adult may exhibit common signs and risk factors, including:

  • Impaired personal care, such as poor hygiene and grooming
  • Impaired ambulation, such as difficulty walking or getting into and out of chairs
  • Difficulty with visual tasks
  • Impaired attention, memory, language expression, or comprehension

If you find yourself as a passenger in your loved one’s car, you should pay attention to these warning signs.  Do they:

  • Forget to buckle up
  • Disregard signs or traffic lights
  • Fail to yield
  • Drive too slowly
  • Get lost often
  • Stop at green lights or at the wrong time
  • Fail to notice other cars, walkers, or bike riders on the road
  • Veer from the correct lane
  • Get honked at or passed often
  • React slowly to driving situations
  • Mix up the gas or brake pedals, or maneuver them with difficulty
  • Drive too cautiously

2.  Plan the Conversation If you are concerned for your loved one’s safety and you think that taking the keys away is an appropriate next step, be sure to plan the conversation ahead of time. Don’t raise your concerns while your loved one is driving! Wait until they are calm and ready to listen to you. Often, people who have trouble driving will be very tired afterward. Choose the right time to address the issue with care and compassion.  A one-on-one meeting is usually best when talking about sensitive topics. If there are too many people speaking at once, your loved one may feel confused and defensive. Before having the conversation, research practical solutions. Taking the keys way can seem threatening to your loved one’s sense of independence. Come prepared with a plan of transportation options in their area, including home care companies that provide transportation, taxi services, and ride-sharing options, such as Uber or Lyft.  Many states have several free public transportation options for seniors. You may also want to reach out to the local senior center for resources in the area. Offer to accompany your loved one the first few times, so that they feel comfortable. You can also ask your family members, neighbors, and friends if they would be willing to drive your loved one. There are many home-delivery options for groceries and household supplies that can eliminate the need for a trip to a store.

3.  Start the Conversation A good way to start the conversation about taking the keys away is by asking, “How are you doing with driving?  Are you still managing or is it becoming difficult for you?”  Explain to your loved one that you know this is a difficult discussion.  Share your feelings of concern.  Listen to your loved one’s responses and do not argue. Keep in mind that your loved one is probably worried about losing their independence and becoming isolated from friends and activities.  Expect that your loved one may become defensive.  Come up with alternative options together and share some of your research.  Give specific reasons that explain why you are concerned, including:

  • A medical condition: a recent diagnosis of cognitive decline warrants consideration if your loved one is still able to drive.
  • Poor vision: with aging, eyes become more sensitive to light, and night vision becomes more challenging
  • Recent fender benders or damage to the car.
  • Getting lost.
  • Recent tickets or violations.

4.  Prepare for Refusal and Next Steps In an ideal world, your aging loved one will know when it’s time to stop driving and the conversation will go well. Unfortunately, most of the time, this delicate conversation about taking the keys away will not end so smoothly.  Often the older driver will insist that they are still able to drive.

If the conversation does not go well, do not blame yourself. You can return to this conversation at a later date. Know that you don’t need to be the “bad guy.” In your next conversation, see if they might be open to having an honest conversation with their physician and taking a driver evaluation test.

You may also consider engaging Theia Senior Solutions’ third-party, objective eldercare experts who can help advise your loved one to stop driving — and lessen your stress. Our eldercare professionals can explain the legal process in your state. They can also help create a plan to keep your loved one’s routine and social activities consistent — even once they are no longer driving.  Reaching out to an eldercare expert to assist in making a transition plan will give you peace of mind, knowing that your loved one is safe and will not be “stuck” at home. It is vital that your loved one feels like they are in control. Make sure that they are part of the transition, understand their options for future transportation, and make their own decision about what type of transportation makes the most sense for them and helps them maintain their dignity and independence.