Deciding When It’s Time to Retire the Car Keys

Jo Gambosi avatar

by Jo Gambosi |

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Anyone who drives today knows that the roads and freeways can sometimes turn into a raceway! From drivers not using their turn signals to motorists cutting others off, countless challenges abound. But what if you have cognitive issues or slower reaction times? Should someone with Parkinson’s disease (PD) be driving?

My sister Bev, 83, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease, has a car that her youngest son bought for her. We’ve had numerous discussions about whether she should be driving, or whether it’s time for her to retire the car keys.

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These Exercises Have Helped With My Sister’s Cognitive Issues

An article by Joana Carvalho for Parkinson’s News Today discusses a study researching cognitive impairment and mobility as predictors of driving ability in PD. Researchers noted that, “Our finding that cognitive impairment is the biggest predictor of poor driving ability is supported by the existing literature. Cognitive testing should hence form a key component of a predictive tool of driving ability in [Parkinson’s disease].”

Last year, my sister, who has some short-term memory challenges, made the decision to surrender her car keys. However, after two months of feeling frustrated and relying on others for transportation to local stores, Bev changed her mind.

The community where she lives offers shuttle transportation to her long-distance physician appointments, but her son or daughter must pick her up for the return home.

Bev drives only when weather permits it in her hometown in Ohio, and it’s less than 10 miles to her local stores.

“At least I feel like I can control something and feel independent,” she told me.

Shopping gives her genuine pleasure. Whether she’s looking for groceries or perusing the local Dollar Store, Bev is a shopping maven.

Still, her son and I have concerns but are trying to be respectful of her desire to maintain her independence. Our concerns focus on her sometimes shaking hands, possible slowed reaction time, and decreased physical strength to operate the car.

The Parkinson’s Foundation notes that many people with PD can learn to drive safely despite their diagnosis. Sometimes adjustments can be made to Parkinson’s medication if a person experiences dizziness or other symptoms that would prevent them from driving. My sister doesn’t have any dizziness with her medication, but she does become easily fatigued.

In response, Bev, her son, and I have agreed to the following driving guidelines for her:

  • She should drive only in the daytime
  • Driving must be within a 10-mile area
  • She won’t drive in snow, rain, or icy weather
  • She won’t listen to the radio or talk on her cellphone — even in hands-free mode — so that she won’t be distracted.

According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, talking with someone who has PD about driving ability is a complex and sensitive issue. Bev’s son and I continue to monitor her and discuss her ability to drive. At the moment, Bev seems to be doing well while staying within the driving guidelines.

However, as her PD progresses, we know we’ll need to look for signs that it’s time for her to turn over the keys. Some signs to look for would be getting lost, accidents, scrapes or dents to the car, etc. Because I’m in Arizona and she’s in Ohio, her son and daughter will have to watch for any of these signs.

AAA has resources to help with driving retirement issues, although not all of them are specifically designed for people with PD.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a fact sheet online about driving with PD. The American Occupational Therapy Association and the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists have national databases where you can search for a local driver rehab specialist who can help with evaluating driving ability for people with PD and others.

When it does come time to revisit whether Bev should turn over the car keys, we’ll want her to know that she is loved, and that we are looking out for her safety as well as that of others. We’ll suggest and focus on other ways she can still be independent. We want her to feel supported all along the journey.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

Comments

Jean Mellano avatar

Jean Mellano

Great article Ma Jo! I also live in a community that offers few transportation options and Long Island is a vast wasteland when it comes to public transportation. The day I have to give up my cars keys is the day I lose my independence.

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Alice Russell avatar

Alice Russell

Fortunately my husband, who has Parkinson’s, made the decision to quit driving when we moved to a new city, so I never faced this problem. But I was told that it’s best to have the doctor recommend that someone give up driving. It’s much easier to accept it from a neutral party than from a family member. I also think there are some locations who have groups who evaluate a persons ability to continue driving and make recommendations. Again, a neutral party. These groups may be sponsored by AARP.

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EILEEN MCDERMOTT avatar

EILEEN MCDERMOTT

I have given up night driving. I am willing to take LYFT but am frightened to get into cars driven by strangers.
Public transportation is very difficult to use as I live in Portland Oregon and the entire metropolitan area has been taken over by homeless. There are no consequences on whatever crimes are done which is a decision of the DA and mayor. I feel like a sitting duck...dependent on my children, mostly. My freedom is gone. Sadly

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Jackie mckeon avatar

Jackie mckeon

Good article- how hard it is to give up driving, another sign that PD has won in taking independence from a person, one thing at a time. It must be hard for you to watch Bev decline.

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Marjorie E Weiss avatar

Marjorie E Weiss

My brother drives for Uber and they have very good protocols on safety and how to be assured you have a legitimate driver. Maybe that will ease your mind a bit.

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Marjorie E Weiss avatar

Marjorie E Weiss

My husband gave up driving when he no longer felt he could think quickly enough to make some of the snap decisions necessary on the road. He does miss that independence but is glad to have kept others safe from him.

Driving within a ten-mile area as the author suggests concerns me since statistically most accidents happen close to home.

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roger Calver avatar

roger Calver

I must agree with you and say that the many do gooders who put pressure on their loved ones to hand in their driving licence before they are ready, often do so wrongly. this can rarely be done satisfactorily by a third person away from the driving situation. Whether this done by doctor or relative. The proper way would be to apply for a specially qualified person to sit with you, and independently assess one’s capabilities and weaknesses. Enabling one to have a clearer idea of ones driving capabilities. Or even with a little help one could continue driving safely or not. All that driving experience will have gone to waste and needless pressure on other service massively increased.

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sheila bertram avatar

sheila bertram

I have had Parkinson for about 2 years and have since realized that I had it for years before diagnosis. I know this to be fairly common in our PD community. My neurologist wants me to go through a battery of tests soon which can take 2-5 hours. Told it could be fairly exhausting. Starts at 8 am, just when I am not functioning well yet. Depending on the outcome I may have to stop driving. My world will collapse around me if that is the case! I saw a few comments above which mentions places to go to get assessed on driving skills. Can anyone be more specific or know, in fact, of these organizations? BTW I am a 78 year old fit female and have never caused an accident and was hoping to use the the 2 years left on my driver's license. What a shock this has all been to me.

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