Dealing With Dimentia in a Parent – How Do You Take the Car Keys Away From Dad?


I subscribe to a number of daily newsletters. One from this morning dealt with an issue many boomers are facing today. When is it time to take the car keys away from your elderly parent?

The writer of the article described his father as having dementia and being very difficult to deal with. The older man insisted on continuing to drive his car despite some serious accidents. "He's a terrible driver, and I know he's going to hurt himself and probably someone else. What can I do to get him off the road?"

As our parents grow older, occasional memory lapses are natural, but dementia is a very serious medical condition that impairs a person's judgment. If you know that your parent is in danger of hurting themselves or others, you have no choice, you must take action.

In our family we've had to deal with this in a variety of ways. When my aunt of 82 went missing for an entire day because she had driven herself downtown and couldn't find her way back, her son decided it was time to act. He wanted to treat her with respect and not dictate what she could or could not do. He tried to talk to her about it, leaving the decision to stop driving to her. But she stubbornly insisted she was fine. Knowing she would never stop unless her car was disabled, he quietly removed her car's alternator. The next day when she went to start the car, the engine wouldn't turn over. When she told her son about it, he put her off, saying he would get the car fixed, but of course he never did. Instead he volunteered to drive her whenever he could and arranged for the Senior Center Van to pick her up for her weekly shopping trips. Although she had lost some of her independence she was satisfied that she could still do her errands and visit her friends.

In my father's case, we were very lucky. By the time he was in his early 80's it was clear he should no longer be driving. One day he drove his buddies to their monthly church meeting and parked the car nearby. The car was stolen. Honest. We did not arrange the theft, but were grateful it had happened. No confrontation necessary. He decided a new car wasn't worth the effort or money and let it all go.

In both these instances the elder parent finally came to peace with the decision not to drive. But if your parent's driving is becoming of grave concern to you and they will not voluntarily stop taking the car, you may have to call your local motor vehicle department and report the problem. It's not the easiest solution, but as an outside authority, they may be able to convince the older person to stop getting on the road.

You might find one of these articles helpful as well:

I invite you to explore more midlife issues, from fitness and exercise, to romance and spirituality at ( a web blog dedicated to the exchange of ideas, opinions and resources for the boomer generation - Pat Mullaly, editor. You can reach her via email at

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