Removing the Car Keys from Elderly Parents

One Family’s Story…

Sylvia’s youngest grandchild, John, was home from his first semester of college and excited to meet his grandma at their favorite local restaurant. As he and his mother, Gwen, waited at a table for Sylvia’s arrival, they became concerned when an hour passed and there was still no sign of her.

They called her up at home – no answer. Gwen told John to continue waiting at their table while she jumped into their car to tool around the surrounding neighborhood to see if she could locate her mother. Maybe Sylvia was sidelined by a flat tire or a minor fender bender.

 By this time, Gwen’s mind was racing and she was starting to feel frantic when scouring the immediate area showed no signs of her mom. With a pounding heart, she decided to drive to her mother’s house to let herself in. But, there was no sign of her mom there either and the car was gone.

As Gwen exited the front door of her mother’s home, a police car pulled into the driveway with her mother’s car right behind it driven by a second police officer. Gwen dashed down the porch steps to see what was going on.

“Mom! Are you all right?” she hugged her mother as she exited the squad car noticing her mother looked confused.

The police officer asked Gwen who she was.

“I’m Gwen – her daughter. Is my mother ok? What happened?”

As the story unfolded, Gwen learned that while her mother was driving to the restaurant she suddenly became very confused forgetting where she was headed. Instead she drove to the elementary school where her grandchildren had once attended and sat there until all the children had departed.

Eventually, she was approached and questioned by a crossing guard who recognized her and called police to help. Sylvia reported to the officers that she was lost and couldn’t remember why she was at the school or where she was supposed to go. She declined medical attention and the officers assisted her back home. 

Gwen called her son at the restaurant telling him grandma had been found and arranged for another family member to pick him up and take him back home.

Aging parents seldom willingly hand over their car keys to their adult children. And, adult children seldom embrace the task of denying their parents their independence. But there can come a time when there is no choice but to do what is safe and take away the keys.

Here are some STOP driving signs adult children should look for:

  • Vision impairment that affects depth perception, peripheral or night vision
  • Drowsiness and slow reaction times possibly caused by prescription medications
  • Hearing Problems
  • Confusion – even if it comes and goes
  • Unexplained dents on the car
  • Traffic Tickets

Gwen told her mother that she thought the time had come to stop driving.

“Mom, you were found in a school yard! What if you had hit a child?”

Her mother received the information with remorse and understood that what had occurred was indeed very serious. A few days later, Gwen gathered her three other siblings, and together they met as a group with their mother to discuss how they would all help her retain an active life. They agreed to take turns chauffeuring her, along with the older grandchildren, driving grandma to hair appointments, medical appointments, tai-chai, bingo, and other outings that were important to her. Although not the least bit happy about how her life had suddenly changed, Sylvia understood they had her best interests at heart. She could see that as a family, her children were in agreement that no more driving was not only keeping Sylvia safe, but others sharing the road with her. Acting from a pro-active position of concern and putting a solid plan in place worked well for this family.  

Oh Deer! Holidays & Your Elders


If you live far away from aging parents and stay connected primarily by phone, your holiday visit may bring unwelcome surprises. Seniors are very good at sounding chipper during a call while masking serious problems they’re facing living alone.

Here’s what Leigh, who lives in a Chicago suburb, discovered during her family’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her 85 year-old father who resides in North Carolina.

“We were shocked when we arrived there,” Leigh said. “He’s not taking care of himself much less his home. It’s obviously too much work for him now. We also saw how compromised his memory is — can’t remember anything recent. The worst part — he’s drinking too much alcohol. Then he forgets to take his meds, or takes alcohol with his sleeping pills! So now he’s sleeping a lot and falling. We were looking forward to a relaxing visit with him, and instead, we found a disaster — where do we begin?”

Unfortunately, these situations do not go away by themselves and are usually a sign something serious is underway. It is far better to address them directly with your loved one as soon as you witness them instead of waiting for a medical emergency to strike.


-Ignores personal hygiene in bathing, dressing, and grooming
-Home or apartment is dirty, cluttered & disorganized
-Not taking medications as directed and forgetting refills
-Confusion, forgetfulness, and/or personality changes
-Inability to handle mail and pay bills

Shortly after arriving at her dad’s house, Leigh privately conferred with her husband, Glenn, to confirm the changes they saw and to hatch a game plan. Then together they sat down with her father and discussed his day-to-day life and the challenges he was obviously facing. Initially resistant to what he termed their interference, they nonetheless put together a plan to be launched immediately.

Next, Leigh contacted her father’s neighbors for assistance to check in on him for a few months, until Leigh and Glenn could move him to the Chicago area. In the meantime, Leigh would travel down to North Carolina for regular visits and to continue preparing the house for sale.

During their Thanksgiving visit, they started thoroughly cleaning his home, addressing outdoor maintenance problems, and downsizing his belongings. They identified items he would like to take with him to Illinois and looked for a real estate professional.

Leigh’s long-term plan is two-fold. They plan to move him into their Chicago home by Spring. Until then, they will add an in-law apartment to their lower level for him. From there, they will eventually look for appropriate and affordable senior housing.

“It’s one step at a time for us now,” Leigh said. “I need to have him living under my roof so I can monitor how he’s really doing once he eats regular meals and takes his medication properly. After that, we’ll have a better idea of his daily functioning and how much independence he can safely handle.” ###