An elderly driver gets lost in a familiar location
If your loved one fumbles to remember the way to the grocery store where they’ve shopped for years—or even decades—it could be a sign of a more serious illness such as Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. As hard as it might be to take away the car keys, discussing alternative methods of transportation (such as taking a public bus or riding with a friend or caretaker) is the best way to keep your loved one safe. And if you continue to have concerns about their mental health, consult a physician or health care provider about further cognitive evaluations. Getting lost while driving is just one of the seven earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
The car has more dents and dings
Increasing auto insurance rates due to a string of car accidents could signal that it’s time for your loved one to stop driving. But even if they’ve luckily managed avoided major collisions, several dings and scratches on the body of their car could indicate erratic driving behavior. When your loved one is not around, discreetly inspect the outside of their car. A few minor scratches might be insignificant, but a clear pattern of damage may be cause for concern. (Stop wasting money on your car for synthetic oils, lube jobs, and other unnecessary vehicle services.)
You notice they get confused by normal traffic signals
Hesitation at the wheel could lead to disaster on the road. Monitor your elderly driver as they drive, noting if they stop at green lights, or run stop signs and red lights—these unpredictable behaviors could put their safety at risk. While at the wheel, encourage your loved one to avoid distractions such as listening to loud music, talking on the phone, texting, eating, or even following a friend. If their driving still does not improve, consider requesting an evaluation at a local driving school or state licensing agency, where your loved one’s driving ability can be more accurately measured. (Check out these 11 etiquette road rules every driver should know!)
They have received multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from police officers
The rare traffic ticket may not be a major red flag, but if you notice a steady pattern of tickets (Got pulled over? Saying these magic words will get you out of any ticket!) or “warnings” from police officers, start taking note of your elderly loved one’s driving habits. Multiple traffic violations could be a signal of cognitive decline or other symptoms of mental or physical health problems; by not driving at the speed limit or misjudging gaps at intersections, your loved one could be in danger on the road. Avoid these 11 scary scenarios on the road using these safe driving tips.
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They have a history of health issues that might affect driving
Even if your loved one is sharp as a tack, physical health problems related to aging might be enough reason to start decreasing their time on the road. Pain or stiffness in the neck, leg pain, and diminished arm strength could make driving more difficult, especially if they must make a quick decision or movement on the road. Encourage the elderly driver in your care to have regular check-ups with a physician and communicate honestly about their physical health with friends and family members. (Check out this pain reliever guide for every ache and pain you can think of!)
They are reluctant to drive, particularly at night
Believe it or not, your loved one could be the first to recognize when they should stop driving. Even if they are reluctant to admit it, they might express their concern in other ways. A person who avoids gatherings at night, arranges meetings during the day, or complains about driving in bad weather could be signaling more critical concerns about driving safety. Respond to these concerns accordingly, encouraging the person in your care to drive during the daylight and good weather, if they must at all. (Try these nifty tricks to stay awake during a long road trip!)
They have deteriorating vision
Good driving requires good eyesight, from accurately reading the speedometer to judging gaps between cars. (Have blurred vision? Don't miss these sneaky signs you need glasses.) According to Elizabeth Dugan, author of The Driving Dilemma, "90 percent of the information needed to drive safely relates to the ability to see clearly." Vision impairment rates increase significantly in people age 75 and older, either because of normal aging or eye diseases like cataracts or glaucoma. Since deteriorating vision is inevitable with age, make sure that your loved one has regular eye exams, and check in with their eye doctor if you have any concerns. Improve your eyesight using these 13 vision boosters and leave the carrots in the fridge!
Their reaction time is slower
As reaction times slow down in seniors, your loved one may have a more delayed response to unexpected situations on the road: vehicles emerging from side streets and driveways, pedestrians on the crosswalk, vehicles stopping or slowing ahead of them, etc. Make sure your loved one can effectively keep track of road signs, signals, and markings (as well as all the other traffic and pedestrians on the road!) and respond to those stimulants accordingly, before they continue to drive alone. (Try these 36 everyday habits to boost your reaction time and reduce your Alzheimer's risk.)
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Their driving behavior changes
Go on a drive with your loved one and take note of their mood at the wheel. Are they showing signs of road rage? Do they seem tense or preoccupied? Are they uncomfortable? Consistently unusual behaviors on the road could be due to certain medications or an undiagnosed condition that might impair driving. Schedule an appointment with their doctor to discuss your concerns and identify alternative ways for your loved one to get around town. (Here's the scary reason why your long morning commute may worsen your memory.)
Their friends and acquaintances are concerned
Even if you don’t live nearby or see your loved one often, take note when friends or acquaintances become concerned about his or her driving. They are more likely to notice when something is wrong before you do, and they might offer realistic solutions that won’t disrupt your loved one’s routine. (Here's how to tell if your elderly parent should go into assisted living.)