Taking the Car Keys from My Dad
by Peter Wallin, Elmira NY Insurance Agent
A retired Dean from the University of Buffalo Law School, Dad was my idol and mentor in life. He taught me all about finances, the value of a good education and how to be a good husband and father. This past year however, his memory skills and response time have faded. He sometimes appeared lost and confused when driving to the grocery store or coffee shop. When asked why it took so long to return home, more often than not he couldn’t give us an acceptable answer.
It was time to have the talk with our 83-year old dad. Although we knew it would be difficult, my oldest sister Lisa (a nurse) and I visited with him and explained that, in the interest of safety, it may be wise for him to no longer drive. I put a note on the refrigerator reminding him of an agreement not to drive alone. Fortunately, Mom is still able to drive to the coffee shop and his regular medical appointments. We hid the car keys and eventually sold one of their cars.
I must honestly and proudly state that Dad has been a good sport here, and rarely questioned our decision. We now can sleep better knowing he, as well as many innocent drivers and pedestrians are safe.
Today, Seventy-eight percent of Americans 70 or older still drive, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. That’s up from 73 percent in 1997, a trend that’s expected to continue as baby boomers age.
Several skills, specifically vision, response time and neuromuscular control, worsen with age. It’s also clear that driving skills can deteriorate as cognitive abilities – memory, language, perception, reasoning, and thinking – decline.
In April 2010, the American Academy of Neurology issued guidelines to help doctors decide when a patient should stop driving. They offer a few indicators of decreased driving ability: A crash in the past year to five years, a traffic citation in the past two years, or an aggressive or impulsive personality. Other ailments that can impede driving include glaucoma, angina, arthritis, respiratory illness and neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
To avoid a tragedy, family and caregivers should discuss a loved one’s recent driving history and health, and observe their driving behaviors. Make plans for proper ways to have a frank discussion with them about their future driving and seek potential alternatives for transportation. And don’t forget to tell them that you love them.