Aging Parents - When to "Take the Keys"?
By Sally Stein
The desire to get behind the wheel is a universal one shared by almost anyone of age. Although a common misconception is that senior drivers are more dangerous on the road, reality challenges that notion. A link between the age at which someone must stop driving and the age of mortality has also been drawn, so if you want to take to the road despite your age, that may be a sign of good health and a spirited lifestyle. For many of us with aging parents, the decision of whether or not to "take the keys" is often a difficult one.
Age Provides Wisdom
Driving is a pastime many embrace, even when it is no longer integral to their job or daily life. It also requires a lot more technical skill than new drivers expect, which may be why young adult drivers are the most likely to crash or get involved in motor vehicle incidents. Senior drivers are the highest demographic regarding seatbelt usage and road safety, and their accidents trend towards single vehicle incidents as opposed to head-on collisions or multi-car wrecks.
Driving Impacts Health
Studies also show that on average, seniors who enjoy driving but are forced to stop due to medical reasons live an average of ten years after their keys are taken away. This link can be drawn due to the direct influence of cognitive or motor skills on the ability to drive, but also may have to do with the mental impact that losing that freedom of mobility can have on older adults.
In fact, the mental influence the ability to drive has on seniors can go both ways. Being able to drive can impact a senior because they feel they are less of a burden on their family or loved ones, who themselves report a worry that they may have to pick up the slack if their senior family members become less mobile. The extra sunlight and time outdoors can improve their health as well, so time in a motor vehicle can help with this too.
The ability to drive freely can give anyone a sense of empowerment. Senior drivers feel that sense of freedom as well as anyone, and actively take more steps to protect it with safer driving and more roadside awareness. Losing that freedom can be devastating to one's self-confidence. It's true that disability and impairments can be a necessary reason to stop driving, and you shouldn’t ignore these signs if they appear, but taking away a senior’s access to the road regardless of their drive to drive can be harmful to your friends or loved ones. Take the time to evaluate all factors before making the "take the keys" decision for an aging parent.