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Elderly Caregiving: When is it time to take the car keys?

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Knowing when and how to discuss matters that may limit the independence of aging family members is often a difficult issue.  Acknowledging when a loved one’s driving privileges need to be limited or revoked is often the toughest issue to tackle. 

Signs that an older adult’s driving skills are becoming impaired or endangering their safety and/or the safety of others include vision changes, especially changes in peripheral vision and depth perception, inability to keep up with the speed limit, banging into curbs, missing turns, getting lost, getting startled easily, startling other drivers or pedestrians, and difficulty driving at night. 

Aging may also have an effect on an individual’s ability to manage their finances and/or medications.  Therefore, it is also important to watch for signs of declining abilities in these areas as well.  Signs of difficulty with financial management may include a consistently imbalanced or disorganized checkbook or suspicious credit card charges. 

Significant behavioral changes and health conditions that are normally under control, such as diabetes and hypertension, get suddenly out of control, serve as signs of inability to properly manage medications.  Unfortunately, impaired judgment is another common symptom of aging and may cause an individual to be less aware or in denial of their declining abilities, making it even more difficult to approach them about these hard-to-discuss topics. 

For individuals with family members who have shown signs of declining skills, such as driving, cooking and medication management, that are beginning to put their health and safety at risk, it is time to develop a plan of action. Discuss this plan with other family members, and the individual’s doctor(s)in order to get everyone on the same page and to respectfully approach the issue. 

Fortunately, our community has an exceptional network of family medicine specialists, geriatric medicine specialists, home care services, and adult care centers, such as PACE of the Triad, dedicated to assisting families with these difficult issues and caring for individuals as they age.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Robert Koehler is the medical director of PACE of the Triad and a member of the Cone Health medical staff.  Dr. Koehler has been a family medicine specialist for more than thirty years, graduating from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Medical School in 1981.  He completed his residency in family medicine at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital.