Q: When should I take the car keys away from my ageing father? His senses aren’t as sharp as they used to be, and the older he gets, the more responsible I feel to protect his safety.
A: You’re in a delicate spot. Not only does it feel awkward to assume the unnatural role of parenting your dad, but this situation poses a potentially devastating loss for him. After all, most of us, seniors included, associate driving with mobility, freedom, and human contact.
Before jumping to worst-case scenarios, consider whether your dad’s driving is affected by a short-term emotional disturbance such as a significant life change or stressful circumstance. If so, simply suggest that he let someone else do the driving until things settle down.
You should also make sure your dad receives regular medical attention to discuss hearing and vision, medications and potential side-effects, possible chronic diseases, and any physical and cognitive impairment. In some cases, deterioration in these areas can be compensated for with treatment, modifications, and education.
But if it’s clear that the time has come to suspend your dad’s driving privileges, do some research before broaching the subject. Gather information on public transportation he might use, and be prepared to ride along till he feels comfortable.
When the moment of truth arrives, talk to your father respectfully about his options. Introduce the subject gently and give him every opportunity to turn over the keys on his own.
If that doesn’t work, you may have to play the bad cop – or enlist the help of your dad’s doctor for the role. Your dad may protest and be angry, but you are responsible for ensuring his safety — and that of others on the road. Remember: The most loving action isn’t always the easiest.
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