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.