Taking the car keys away from an aging loved one is never easy

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SARASOTA, Fla. - It is emotional for the family and the person who may feel they are losing independence and control. But the decision whether to drive or not can make the difference between life and death.

"My dad looked into my eyes, reached into his pocket. He gave me the keys to the car as tears were streaming down his face."  Pines of Sarasota President and CEO John Overton told ABC 7 his father unknowingly ran two stop signs while visiting him on vacation, and that is when Overton broached the uncomfortable topic.  "I said 'Dad, why don't we pull over to the side here?'"

His father handed over the keys with tears in his eyes, but it was the right thing to do,says Sarasota Memorial Hospital's Director of Geriatrics, Bruce Robinson, M.D.

"When you're older and driving is becoming more and more risky," says Robinson. "It's going to feel very threatening for you to think that people will take away your car keys."

As we age, the brain processes things more slowly. "Each older person as they age, will experience an increase in risk, regardless of what your diseases are and what your problems are."

Symptoms of aging could put you or others at risk of an accident, says Michael Fitzgerald, of Serenity Place at Doctor's Hospital of Sarasota. "They lack the response time, they lack the ability to be able to concentrate, they lack the ability to focus, they lack the ability to be able see as well as they could in the past."

Occupational Therapist Terry Mishos, OT/L of SMH conducts driving tests using special equipment both in and out of the car. She looks for several things.  "Are they able to maintain their lane, stop at stop signs, correct use of turn signals, concentrate and attend to the road?"

Some seniors, like 92-year old Bob Ireland still drive, he said he will be responsible when the time comes and hand over the keys. But, for now he is competent. "I still have excellent eyesight, I can still hear really well, and as far as I know, I have no signs of dementia."

His 95-year old friend Bob King has no problem giving driving. He said his daughter does it for him. "Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten rid of the car."

For those of us in the uncomfortable position of asking for keys, you may want to enlist the help of your family physician. Have them do the asking which takes the pressure off you.

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