When to take the driver’s license away from older family members

NILES, Ohio (WYTV) – In less than a month, there have been two statewide missing adult alerts issued in Trumbull County for elderly people who disappeared after going for a drive. Experts say it’s important to know when your older family members should stop driving and be able to have that conversation with them.

“It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s one that needs to happen earlier rather than later,” said the Area Agency on Aging’s Lisa Solley. “They are going to be very, very reluctant to give up their car keys because that’s their independence.”

Helen and Wade Brainard, of Cortland, went missing on Saturday but were found safe Sunday, driving around town. A relative spotted them heading south on Route 46 by the Pauni Apartments and continued to follow them until police could get there.

Both had been diagnosed with dementia.

Officials are still searching for 91-year-old John Peters, whose car was found by Lake Erie. His family said he sometimes gets easily confused.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, there are some signs to look out for to know when your aging loved one should stop driving:

  • Drifts into other lanes
  • Straddles lanes
  • Makes sudden lane changes
  • Ignores or misses stop signs and traffic signals
  • Gets easily confused in traffic
  • Brakes or stops abruptly without cause
  • Accelerates suddenly without reason
  • Coasts to a near stop sign in the midst of moving traffic
  • Presses simultaneously on the brake and the gas while driving
  • Has difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles
  • Drives significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
  • Backs up after missing an exit or road
  • Has problems with neck flexibility in turning to see traffic on the left or right
  • Gets lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
  • Fails to use the turn signal or keeps the signal on without changing lanes
  • You notice dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs

“Let people know they can maintain their independence, and their social contacts, and their lives, and maybe not have to rely on their own vehicle as much,” said John Saulitis, long-term care ombudsman director.

Officials at the Area Agency on Aging suggested involving other people in the conversation like health care workers, friends, and members of their church. Hopefully then, your loved one will better understand it is what’s best for them.

There are several ways to help the difficult talk go smoother, according to the National Institute of Health:

  • Be prepared — Have any documentation you’ve gathered ready and offer alternative transportation solutions.
  • Avoid confrontation — Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages. For example, “I am concerned about your safety when you are driving,” rather than “You’re no longer a safe driver.”
  • Stick to the issue — Discuss the driver’s skills, not his or her age.
  • Focus on safety and maintaining independence — Be clear that the goal is for the older driver to continue the activities he or she currently enjoys, while staying safe.
  • Be positive and supportive — Recognize the importance of a driver’s license to the older person. Understand that he or she may become defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn. You might say, “I understand that this may be upsetting,” or “We’ll work together to find a solution.”

If all else fails, you can have the police, DMV, or court confiscate their license.