Take a ride
First take a ride with your parent and watch for problem areas. For example:Does he drive too fast or slow? Does he tailgate or drift between lanes? Does he have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does he react slowly? Does he get distracted or confused easily? Also, has your parent had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on their vehicle? These too are red flags. After your assessment you need to have a talk with your parent about your concerns, but don't sound alarmed. If you begin with a dramatic outburst like "Dad you're going to kill someone!" you're likely to trigger resistance. Start by gently expressing you're worried about his safety.
For tips on how to talk to your parents about this touchy topic, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT Age Lab offers some guides titled "Family Conversations with Older Drivers" and "Family Conversations about Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia & Driving" that can help along with an online seminar called "We Need to Talk" that was produced by AARP. To access these free resources, visit www.safedrivingforalifetime.com .
Like many elderly seniors, your parents may not have even realized their driving skills have slipped. If this is the case, consider signing him up for an older driver refresher course through AARP (www.aarp.org/drive , 888-227-7669), your local AAA or driving school.
By becoming aware of your parents driving limitations, they may be able to make some simple adjustments-like driving only during the day or on familar routes that can help keep them safe and driving longer. Or, they may decide to hang up the keys on their own.
Refusal to quit
If however, you believe your parent has reached the point that he can no longer drive safely, but he refuses to quit, you have several options. One possible solution is to suggest a visit to his doctor who can give him a medical evaluation and if warranted, "prescribe" that he stops driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.
If that doesn't do it, as him to get a comprehensive driving evaluation done by a driver rehabilitation specialist-this can cost several hundred dollars. A driving evaluation will test your parent's cognition, vision and motor skills as well as their on-road driving abilities. To locate a specialist in your area, contact the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists(www.driver-ed.org , 866-672-9466 or the Occupational Therapy Association(www.aota.org/older-driver ).
If they still refuse to move to the passenger seat, call your local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they can help. Or, call an attorney to discuss with your parents the potential financial and legal consequences of a crash or injury. If all else fails, you may just have to take away his keys.
Once your parent stops driving they're going to need other ways to get around, so so help them create a list of names and phone numbers of family, friends and local transportation services that they can call on. To locate community transportation services call the Area Agency on Aging. Call 800-677-1116 for contact information
Jim Miller is a contribtor the the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.