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Listener Question: How to Take Car Keys Away from Elderly Parent?

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Listener Question: How to Take Car Keys Away from Elderly Parent?

Oct 09, 2018

As your loved ones get older, there’s a good chance they will begin losing their vision, and in turn, their ability to drive safely degrades. But taking away the car keys from a loved one can be an emotional and challenging event. Lisa Ord, patient support program director for The Moran Eye Center, shares some practical strategies on this critical and potentially life-saving conversation.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Need reliable health and wellness information? Don't listen to the guy in the cube next to you. Get it from a trusted source, straight from the doctor's mouth. Here's this week's listener question on The Scope.

Interviewer: All right, today's patient question is from a gentleman named Ken. He says that his dad is starting to lose his eyesight, and they're concerned that his driving isn't as good as it needs to be.

So how do you have that conversation to take away the keys? It can be a scary thing to do. And to help answer this question we have Lisa Ord. She's a licensed clinical social worker. She also has a PhD in social work and is the Patient Support Program Director at the Moran Eye Center.

So how do you have that conversation?

Lisa: Having that conversation with one of your parents is probably one of the toughest conversations you're going to have, especially here in the West where we rely so much on driving and how much of our individual freedom is attached to be able to get in the car and go where you want when you want to. But the problem is that when someone isn't seeing as well as they need to be seeing, it gets frightening.

And it's not only frightening for them, but it's frightening for anybody else that's on the road or walking on the side of the road. So being able to have the conversation with your parents is very important. And to start with saying, "You know, dad, you've just had your eye checkup, and I see that it's not getting better. They can't correct it. Have you thought about other ways of getting to where you need to go other than driving yourself?"

Interviewer: And then you just pause and wait for that answer?

Lisa: And you pause and wait. Exactly. And it may be met with anger and just being able to be with that and say, "I know that this is a tough conversation, not something you even want to talk to me about." But the tougher conversation is the conversation after you've hit somebody because you didn't see them.

Interviewer: So this is a conversation that if you feel that somebody that you love is not seeing well, you need to have a . . . you outlaid a very direct approach. Are there other ways, if you don't think the direct approach is going to work with your particular loved one?

Lisa: I've had patients use different approaches. One patient said, excuse me, one daughter of one of my patients said that she finally said, "My children will not ride with you in the car. We either need to have someone else drive, or you're not going to be able to take them where you want to take them." So it was kind of like putting it in terms of, "I don't feel safe enough to be in the car with you. I don't feel safe enough for you to take my children in the car with you."

Interviewer: And that really kind of brought the reality to bear?

Lisa: To bear, yeah.

Interviewer: Is there somebody else you could involve, like a health care professional perhaps, because maybe they would be more willing to take it from a third party?

Lisa: I have a lot of patients that say, "But my license doesn't expire for another two years, so I don't have to worry about it." And that's not the case. You're still going to be very much liable whether your license is expired or not. If you're not safe to be driving, your eye care professional will have to fill out a medical form stating what your visual acuity is, and your visual field if you are not being able to be corrected to 20/40 or better. So that is something that they're going to have to do. Having the health provider have that conversation with your parent is sometimes easier because it does kind of put that onus on the healthcare professional.

The other thing is that if you really can't have the conversation, you really are concerned about your parents' driving or anyone's driving, you can make a report to the DMV, and they will take it upon themselves to have that person do a driving test.

Interviewer: Okay. All right. Probably not the way that most people would want to handle it. But I guess as a last resort . . .

Lisa: As a last resort. And I have had some family members who say their parents are so adamant that they're, you know, having extra keys made every time the keys are taken away from them, things like this. And so you're left with no other resort, except for to call in the people whose ultimate responsibility is to take away the license, and that is the driver's license division.

Interviewer: Ultimately, though, if somebody is faced with a vision impairment that could endanger them or others while driving, whatever you do, you would recommend something has to be done.

Lisa: Yes.

Interviewer: Don't leave it to chance.

Lisa: Don't leave it to chance. Not a good plan.

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