Deciding When It’s Time to Retire the Car Keys
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.
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.
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.