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Driving and freedom. These words are paired together from the very first day you get your driver’s license. And that’s why this conversation is one that adult children dread – asking mom or dad to consider giving up their sense of independence and the car keys for their own personal safety and that of others on the road.

Studies show that cognitive decline in older adult drivers can lead to their becoming disoriented and getting lost while in control of a motor vehicle.

If you have concerns about how a parent is handling him or herself behind the wheel, AAA says there are some common warning signs you should look for:

  • Working the pedals – How are they handling their legs, feet and toes when using the gas and brake pedals? If they’re confused or lifting their legs to move from the gas to the brakes, it could mean a loss of leg strength.
  • Road rules – Are they sliding through or not even braking for stops signs or other traffic signals? Are they weaving in and out of lanes or drifting in traffic? Do they use their turn signals when changing lanes or check side and rearview mirrors for other drivers?
  • Speed up, slow down – Is your parent using the horn or passing other drivers when traffic is slowed down? This could mean they are having trouble keeping up with driving conditions that require quick decision-making.
  • Tickets and accidents – An increase in traffic violations or fender benders is a cause for concern. Listen if neighbors witness any driving incidents or if your children riding with grandma and grandpa notice they are having problems behind the wheel.

If you recognize one or more of these signs, experts say prepare for a conversation with mom or dad with several key points in mind.

First, be calm and supportive during the discussion. Giving up driving privileges is a loss of freedom for many older adults and may be difficult for them to accept. Second, keep a positive tone. Share alternatives to driving such as cab or Uber rides, or a senior car service. No matter what, assure your mom or dad that they can still maintain their active lifestyle while leaving the driving to someone else. Sometimes a change in perspective is needed: having someone drive them isn’t taking away a freedom, the act of doing the activity they are traveling to is the freedom.

No matter what this can be a difficult conversation. Take time to assess the situation and talk it over with siblings, friends and other loved ones, but avoid an intervention. A candid, private conversation is the best way to start. And be confident that the safety of your parent and others is at the heart of this decision.

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