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Turning the Table on Our Parents, When it’s Time to Take the Keys.

Turning the Table on Our Parents, When it’s Time to Take the Keys.

As a teen, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about driving. I took a class called “Know Your Car” in high school and actually earned an “A” in the class. My dad wouldn’t hand over the keys to the family car until I knew how to change a tire and change the oil. I’m fifty-one years old now, and I can tell you that I have never once changed a tire or changed the oil in my car and I rarely lost my driving privileges as a teen.

Recently I attended a workshop on when to take the keys from our aging parents. My parents are in their mid-seventies and are still very active and driving wherever they go. In fact, my dad just bought himself a sporty new car. It’s hard to imagine a time when they will have to hand over the keys, however, it’s never too early to start thinking about the inevitable.

Driving represents freedom to aging adults. However, as we age we experience changes in our physical and cognitive abilities and that freedom can come at a cost if the driver has lost the ability to be a safe driver. Things such as loss of vision and hearing, range of motion, and reaction time can affect driving. Some health conditions and medications can also interfere with a person’s ability to drive. However, before you take away someone’s driving privileges, there are some tests aging adults can take to see if they can safely navigate the roads.

We are fortunate to have access to one assessment right here in Gig Harbor. In fact, the only licensed site in the State of Washington for this particular assessment is at Harbor Speech Pathology. The assessment is called the DCAT- DriveABLE Cognitive Assessment Tool. It’s a computerized cognitive assessment designed to test the interaction of mental processes necessary for driving. It is considered to be highly predictive of actual on-road driving performance. The assessment has several years of research behind it. The DriveABLE assessment measures things like fine motor control, impulse control, decision making, reactions, tracking and processing, and ability to respond to complex information.

If the DCAT isn’t available near you, there are other resources available. For example, AARP has the Smart Driver Safety Course. It consists of two, four-hour sessions and can be taken online from the comfort of your own home. The course offers evidence based safe driving techniques and useful tips. AAA offers a booklet with a self-rating and scoring tool called “Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Performance” which allows you to examine your ability to keep driving safely. After self-rating, the booklet offers suggestions for improvement. There are also several driver improvement courses that aging adults can take such as Roadwise Review and Drive Sharp. Brain fitness programs are also showing promise for improving focus, attention, and reaction time and are certainly worth looking into.  

It’s important to ensure that older adults can remain active in their communities, with easy access to the grocery store, church, doctor appointments, visiting friends and more. Taking their independence away can be traumatic, and even cause depression in aging adults. When the time does come to have “the talk” with a loved one about their driving, it’s important to make sure it’s a caring but candid and non-threatening conversation. Reassure your loved one that they will still be able to access the places they need to go. Offer suggestions for alternative forms of transportation. There are quite a few different options such as home care givers, public transportation, volunteers, taxi services, senior transport or veteran transport services, hospital or clinic transportation, and companies who offer point to point driving services.

I honestly do not look forward to a conversation like this with my parents. I’m certainly not prepared to turn the table on them and take their keys. Perhaps I will take the easy way out and suggest that they read my blog!

Written By: Susan O’Leary
Marketing Director
Kensington Gardens Resort Living Retirement Community

Published on Oct 23, 2017.

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