When it's Time to Take the Car Keys Away

The day we took Dad's car keys away is forever etched in my mind. It was not an easy family decision, but we knew we had to make it. Over time, and with the progression of his Alzheimer's disease, Dad lost his sense of direction and bearings, which had him experiencing challenges as an independent driver. From what we observed and becoming more concerned, we had to work as a team to keep Dad and others safe from harm and getting lost.

A range of emotions

Navigating Dad's Alzheimer's diagnosis as a family had our feelings mushed into one big heap, leaving us feeling, at times, overwhelmed, anxious, and sad. As the time came closer for our family talk and knowing that Dad needed our guidance and care, we were determined to do our best to support him.

The day we took the keys away was very emotional. Before making any decision concerning Dad, we reminded ourselves that we should put ourselves in his shoes, and we made it our personal goal to follow our family's Golden Rule: Treat Dad with love, care, and respect. I couldn't help but wonder how this would all pan out, but eventually, we all began to feel some relief when we had a chance to discuss how to best support Dad's care plan by taking over his driving.

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The signs

At first, there were a few subtle changes like:

  • Parking outside and not in the garage
  • Forgetting to turn off the car lights
  • Extended wait time at the traffic lights
  • Losing his direction in his neighborhood
  • Additional scratches and dents to his car

Then things progressed to:

  • Taking longer to arrive home from a routine outing
  • Losing his bearings on a larger scale
  • An empty gas tank
  • Missing keys
  • Car in disarray
  • Mailbox damage
  • Risky turns

As changes in Dad's driving were becoming more concerning, we knew that something had to change to keep him and others safe.

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Getting used to something new

In preparation for our talk with Dad, we consistently offered to take him places to prepare him before we had to take his car keys away. Conversations before an outing included things like, "Dad, I need to visit the store, too." "I'll plan to drive." "You would like to get a haircut?" "Please allow me to take you."

In all honesty, Dad wasn't always down for a ride when I offered to drive, but with practice, I was learning how to transition his feelings of agitation with a distraction until we were ready to hit the road. It helped that I had Dad help me get the bags ready for shopping. Fill our thermos with water and place his favorite yellow cap on his head.

The plan

Our family plan was to use the team approach. My mother, sisters, and I would need each other's support to help navigate Dad's reaction to losing his independence and having his car keys taken away. We knew we would have to offer comfort and reassure him that we would now be his chauffeur, an idea we had confidence he would like over time.

Our family team needed to devise a plan for who would be responsible for most of the driving. We hashed out our busy schedules and when to plan for sisterly visits. This was necessary because we all lived in different parts of the country. We knew we needed to provide each other with downtime from our shared caregiving responsibilities and that flexibility and communication were vital.

Moving ahead with our plan would take effort, and we were committed to trying our best. We soon learned that work commitments and our personal and family lives interrupted our carefully scheduled plans, but we figured it out because we had to. We were in this together, and there was no turning back.

The talk

When the day came to talk with Dad about taking his car keys away, we approached him in a caring and supportive manner like we always did. We explained that taking his keys away was for his safety and that of others, and we knew that Dad would want that. He cared so much for the safety and well-being of all people.

Hesitancy and reactions

Initially, Dad hesitated to let me, Mom, or my sisters drive. Dad often stomped off and sat in the driver's seat, waiting for his keys. Everyone's patience was tested during these long few minutes. This behavior didn't last too long, but what supported him was giving him something helpful to do instead of looking out the window, which made him feel useful.

I gave Dad responsibilities during our rides, and sometimes I would ask him to hold my purse, hang onto the spare change for the parking meter, and letters to be mailed, and for fun, I asked him to help me count the total number of bumps over the rickety bridges. Dad willingly accepted these tasks in due time, and it became our new norm.

Time travels

For years, we observed how Dad was a safe and conscientious driver. We all felt bad for taking away his privilege to jump in the car and hit the road, but it had to be done for the safety of Dad and others.

When we tried our best to explain why we needed to take his keys away, he immediately responded with disappointment and confusion. To him, all was fine, and there was no way we would ever take his keys away. At the moment, Dad could participate in the conversation and acknowledge the change. Still, a few minutes later, with Dad's short-term memory issues, there was no recollection of our conversation.

The handover

Dad's handover of his keys didn't come with a smile but a big pout; we were okay with that. In the end, what choice did we have? Together, we faced moments of anger and looks of how dare we, but we prevailed with our patience and never gave up on trying to support Dad. It took time, several weeks before he eventually became accustomed to being a full-time passenger, and awaited his opportunities to take a ride, especially to the ice cream shop.

Take aways

My takeaway from our family experience is to establish a circle of support. Develop an action plan and find people who will assist you with driving if you need help managing. During conversations, try your best to remain calm. Take plenty of deep breaths, and continue offering comfort to those losing a part of their identity and independence.

While they may be present with their thoughts at some points, continue sharing your commitment to providing them with safe rides and taking them places just for fun. Share patience, respect, and support throughout the conversation, and know that you are doing right by keeping your loved one and others safe. I wish you safe travels and joyous car rides.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AlzheimersDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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