How to tell if your elderly loved one is in danger behind the wheel

Looking out for an aging parent or elderly relative can raise challenging questions and force you to initiate difficult conversations. You’ve probably noticed your loved one’s driving abilities beginning to decline, but how do you know when it’s time for them to hang up the keys for good?

How old is too old to drive?Too Old to Drive

It depends. We all feel the effects of aging at different rates, suffer different age-related health issues and have different skill and experience levels behind the wheel. All drivers suffer some decline in their driving abilities as they get older, but it wouldn’t be reasonable or fair to force everyone to give up their keys at a certain age.

When evaluating your loved one’s ability to safely continue driving, consider the following areas:

1. Cognitive Conditions

Do they have trouble focusing or solving problems? Have you noticed any symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia or another condition that could interfere with their driving abilities? A person’s mental health can sometimes begin to deteriorate long before their body, making it vital to watch for early warning signs.

2. Physical Abilities

Most people lose some range of motion as they age, but falls, injuries or conditions that weaken muscles, coordination and reaction time could put your loved one at a much greater risk of a crash. Pay attention to their ability to control the vehicle, check blind spots and adjust to changing road conditions.

3. Prescription Medications

Does your loved one take any medication(s) on a regular basis? What are the side effects of the drugs individually and when taken in combination?  According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 95 percent of senior citizens take medications that could impair their driving.

Use this interactive database to help determine if your loved one’s medications are putting them at risk.

4. Driving History

Did your loved one recently cause a collision, or have you witnessed some close calls? Have they received multiple warnings or citations from law enforcement? These are some of the more obvious signs of a decline in driving ability, and can be used as examples if you decide to bring up the issue.

What to do

If you realize it is no longer safe for your loved one to be behind the wheel, plan a time to sit down with them to discuss your concerns. Be firm but supportive, explain your reasoning and offer some alternative transportation options that could help ease their transition.

What measures can you take if your loved one refuses to stop driving, but you know they need to? Read this post for information on filing a reexamination request with your local licensing office.

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