“Are You Trying to Take Away My Keys?” Communication Tips for Talking With Older Drivers

Driving is not just a form of transportation; it symbolizes independence and freedom, the ability to live our lives when and where we like. As our bodies get older, however, driving can become more difficult or dangerous, and when issues arise, it’s important to have open and informed conversations about problems and solutions that meet everyone’s needs.

As many older drivers are either unaware of how their driving abilities have changed or resistant to talking about it, these conversations are often fraught for caregivers and family members. Caregivers can feel like they alone need to step in and act when they perceive a problem, partly because as a society we have many laws and advice about keeping our youngest drivers safe on the road, but hardly any national guidelines for older drivers.

In this article we aim to inform you as a caregiver about the most common ways in which aging affects driving ability, so you know what to look out for. For older adults, understanding that aging-related driving difficulties are common (and often solvable) can also be reassuring. Last but not least, I share several strategies that we share with our AgeAssured members and families that help make discussing the topic of driving easier and more productive.  

Top three ways aging affects driving

Vision: Most people know about the need for reading glasses after age 40 or so, but aging affects vision in other ways that are less commonly understood and that affect driving. Peripheral vision (seeing out of the side of your eye), visual acuity (blurriness), astigmatisms (light glare at night), and ocular motor function (how our eyes move) can all be impacted by age, chronic conditions, or other diseases.  As a result, annual vision screenings are critical for older drivers. 

Proprioception / Nerve Damage: Chronic conditions such as diabetes can impact both sensation and proprioception (or knowledge of where one is located in space) in our feet. The change can be very subtle, and most people do not even realize they have lost sensation. Obviously, if you lack understanding of where your feet are while driving, it can be very dangerous, leading to improper braking or use of the gas pedal. Ask your primary care provider to check for any foot-related sensation problems at your annual visit.

Cognition: As we age, changes in cognition can impact driving abilities. Memory, attention, and reaction times may decline, affecting decision-making on the road. Changes in any of these areas are important to be aware of and discuss with your doctor. In many cases, working with an occupational therapist can help you adapt and ensure safety while maintaining your independence. 

Tips for successful conversations 

As an occupational therapist, I have had the driving conversation many times with my clients and my own relatives. Some older adults were incredibly upset and offended while others were understanding and ready for the change. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few strategies for making this discussion a constructive collaboration instead of a bitter conflict or forced take-away of someone’s keys. 

Show respect. Many older adults perceive the idea that they should stop driving as an insult. It is important to always start the conversation respectfully and recognize that this is challenging for them to consider. Give them the space to process and react organically. Sometimes these conversations may need to happen over multiple occasions. 

Start the conversation early. It’s much easier if you start this conversation before you need to have it. For example, after my family navigated the end of my grandmother’s driving due to Alzheimer’s, I had an open conversation with my parents on how they wanted their eventual cessation of driving to happen. Both of my parents affirmed that their top priority was to maintain their independence and safety. As long as there was a healthy Uber budget, they just wanted a clear heads-up that it was time to turn over the keys. Ten years after that conversation, we gave my father the heads up, and he happily gave his keys to us: our values were already aligned.

Don’t make it personal. Keep the conversation objective and steer away from blame. It’s easy for an older adult to feel offended and/or threatened if you say, “Dad your memory is too bad, you keep getting lost, I am taking away your keys.” Instead, try “Dad, I have noticed that your memory is starting to impact your safety while you drive. Let’s explore some other transportation options together to ensure you are able to get to where you need to go safely.” 

Focus on solutions. The biggest resistance to driving cessation is, naturally, the fear that you’ll no longer be able to get where you want or need to go. Luckily, there are many services around that can support your loved ones to maintain independence while keeping them safe on the road. Do your research upfront on what’s available—whether public transportation, local senior services, or ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

Don’t be the expert. Try and have an outside authority bear the hard news so you are free to be an ally. Otherwise, you may have little defense in the heat of the moment against the critique “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Ask your primary care physician for an occupational therapy driving evaluation. A certified expert can provide you and your loved one an objective assessment of their driving safety, as well as some possible rehabilitative recommendations to extend their independence. 

Thank you for being someone who cares about safety on the road. I hope this article helps you and your family navigate what is often a dreaded conversation in a positive and effective way. 


  • Find an OT Driving Rehabilitation Specialist: https://myaota.aota.org/driver_search/
  • Gogo Grandparent -Gogo Grandparent is a service that enables adults to easily access ride-sharing services like Uber and lyft through a phone call instead of using a smartphone application

How to access:https://gogograndparent.com/services/rides-for-seniors or call 855-464-6872