How to know if it's time to take a senior loved one's keys

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While driving might be a part of everyday life for most of us in the Lowcountry, and something we don't consider as a particularly difficult task, for seniors it can be incredibly dangerous.

In Beaufort and Jasper counties, our roads are filled with senior drivers. We can all relate to being stuck in traffic due to an accident caused by someone who shouldn't be driving.

Seniors can be a danger on the road if their mental or physical capabilities have diminished too much. It's often difficult to know exactly when that will be. If you're wondering when you should have that difficult conversation with your loved one about driving, there are a few factors you should consider.

Health: Certain medical conditions can inhibit a senior's ability to safely get behind the wheel. Ailments that affect vision, mobility, focus and mental sharpness can all reduce the awareness of surroundings and reaction time.

Medications: It's important to take note of any medications your loved one might be taking that could impair his ability to drive. Some medications have side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, headaches and blurred vision, that could cause them to be unsafe on the road.

Recent driving record: While this might seem like an obvious indicator of someone's ability or inability to drive, it can be a useful reference for identifying trends in your loved one's driving. A consistent record of fender-benders or unexplained bumps or scratches on the car can be indicators of something more serious - that their driving ability isn't what it used to be.

Notable changes: Try to be in the car while your loved one is driving and observe how she handles the vehicle. This is one of the best ways to determine if she is still fit to drive. Watch for errors while signaling, difficulty turning, increased agitation, failure to obey road signs, and slow reaction times.

There are also tests available that can evaluate a person's ability to operate a car. A driving assessment might be available at your local DMV, rehabilitation center, VA medical center, or hospital. These evaluations usually cost between $200 to $500 and can be well worth the expense.

If your loved one is exhibiting any of these signs, and you suspect he or she might be a danger to themselves or others on the road, senior home care services would be a good option. Home care caregivers can assist your loved ones with errands, transportation and mobility so they won't need to get behind the wheel.

Jennifer Redmond is the family care coordinator for Senior Helpers of Hilton Head Island. jredmond@seniorhelpers.com.

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