Driving and Seniors: When is it time to have the talk?

There is no easy answer to this question, and telling mom or dad to stop driving is an emotional topic which must be tread lightly.  If you can imagine back to when you were a teenager and you got your first car, driving symbolized independence, freedom, competency.

As we get older our bodies start to change and we may start to experience changes in reaction time, concentration and overall abilities. There may be underlying health or cognitive difficulties that may impair judgement on the road.  Assessing the right time to have a conversation with your loved one is never easy, but planning ahead is essential  This is the perfect time to rally a team together of professionals and resources to think through your approach. The following are factors to consider that may impact your loved one’s performance on the road:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (or related neurological disorder)
  • Medication side effects
  • Hearing Loss
  • Macular degeneration (or glaucoma)
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness (depression)
  • Substance abuse (alcoholism)
  • Sleep deprivation

 Poly-pharmacy:  Older people with multiple medical conditions often take multiple medications which are necessary but may impair skills needed for driving. It is important to communicate with your loved one’s doctor as to how the benefits outweigh the risks.

 Prescription drugs are chemicals designed to produce specific and desired changes or functions within the body. But, as in the law of physics, for every action there is a reaction. That reaction may be drowsiness and/or a slowing of the person’s reaction time. In the field of medicine these are identified as side effects and may effect, even seriously, a person’s ability to drive.

A patient taking several different prescription drugs, particularly if they are prescribed by different doctors who don’t have updated knowledge of other drugs being taken, may have even more serious side effects as each of the drugs creates its own side effects plus conflict with other drugs to cause even worse reactions.  

Your parent’s physician(s) can advise you of the side effects of each drug plus the added conflicts through polypharmacy. You may also take all the prescription containers to a friendly pharmacist who can quickly do a computer-based analysis.

Many seniors want to “age in place” in the comfort of their own home, and this means at some point in time instrumental tasks of daily living such as managing money, driving, and completing tasks of daily living may become difficult. Often times an objective professional can help the family determine when the right time is to implement discussions and interventions- which may turn what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle, into an opportunity.

Geriatric Care Managers (GCMs) conduct an initial assessment to determine independence level, taking into account a multifaceted approach to individual functioning and care. Creative ideas can be explored to not only facilitate effective approaches for your loved one, but considering safety issues as well.


Garnering resources for you as a family caregiver can give you insight into what things you should be looking for, which can assist in facilitating difficult but necessary conversations for the safety of your loved one.  Arming yourself with knowledge can make you feel more empowered if there are options to put in place, when your loved one’s independence is threatened.







According to the Center for Disease Control, seniors can take several steps to try and stay safe on the road:

  • Exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Asking your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines-both prescription and over-the counter-to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Having eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Driving during daylight and in good weather.
  • Finding the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Planning your route before you drive.
  • Leaving a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
  • Avoiding distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
  • Considering potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend or using public transit, that you can use to get around.