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How to Help Seniors Give Up the Car Keys

Family caregiver trying to take senior car keys away_arguing_8

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August 19, 2014

The decline of cognitive function that comes with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias should not limit a senior’s ability to maintain some independence, even if they have to give up driving. As a senior caregiving professional, you can play a crucial role in assessing a client’s driving ability and helping them transition to using alternative modes of transportation. The key lies in offering a variety of options to help seniors continue to get around.

Family members may ask to enlist your aid in starting the “car keys” conversation with their loved one. Because seniors tend to respect the authority of a physician or other caregiving professional regarding these matters, they often hear “you need to stop driving” better when it comes from a doctor rather than a family member.

If you have this conversation with a senior, be empathetic. Imagine how you might feel if you couldn’t drive to work or to the grocery store tomorrow. Consider how limited you might feel if you were not able to come and go from your home at will. By approaching the issue from an empathetic standpoint, you may find the senior becomes more open to hearing you.

Whenever you suggest a person give up the car keys, it’s important to couple that recommendation with a list of viable transportation alternatives that will help the senior maintain independence and avoid feeling like a burden on family caregivers. Here are some suggestions:

  • The Home Instead Senior Care® network’s incidental transportation services.  Home Instead CAREgiversSM can accompany seniors to and from doctor appointments (and take notes, if desired), assist with grocery shopping and drive seniors to the beauty salon or barber shop -- among many other places.
  • Supplemental transportation programs (STPs). These community-based, low-cost services transport seniors to various destinations by appointment. Usually operated by non-profit organizations, STPs often use volunteers who pick up seniors in comfortable minivans or sedans and return them home after their appointment. Check your local senior resource directory for more information on what’s available.
  • Carpooling. This is an especially useful option for activities like religious services and other regularly scheduled events. Encourage the senior or the family caregiver to ask someone who participates in the same activity if he or she would be willing to pick up and drop off the senior so he or she may continue to attend.
  • Public transportation. Some municipalities offer special needs shuttles at discounted rates that pick seniors up at the door. This option may work for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia, but it may not be viable if the person can’t state his or her destination or home address.

When a senior stops driving, family members often jump in to provide transportation services. That is a good alternative too. However, a single medical appointment can require a family member to take a half-day or more off work. As a senior caregiving professional, you should watch for signs of caregiver stress in family members due to transportation issues. If they aren’t aware of the transit options outlined above, you might consider educating them.

Having the “car keys” talk can be stressful for everyone involved. To make this conversation easier, the Home Instead Senior Care network is offering a public education program to bridge the communication gap between seniors and their adult children. Called “The 40-70 Rule®: An Action Plan for Successful AgingSM,” this program covers six key topics seniors and their families should talk about, including when to stop driving. The program includes a free, downloadable Action Plan that offers practical action steps to help guide the conversation. Download it now to share with seniors and their families.



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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. September 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Posted by Lauren Watral

    I would like to add and recommend the Beyond Driving with Dignity program offered by Keeping Us Safe ( In North Carolina, Raleigh Geriatric Care Management ( is certified to offer the program. The Beyond Driving With Dignity Workbook for families with older drivers is available through Raleigh Geriatric Care Management for 25.00 which includes shipping. Read more about the book at


  2. September 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Posted by Winnifred Loucks

    I would like to share this site with my alzheimers' support group. Thank you Winnie Loucks


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