Bloomington / Normal, IL

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When Is It Time to Hang up the Keys?


Submitted by Regan King, Community Relations Coordinator, Welbrook at Bloomington

As people get older, one of the most difficult decisions is determining if it is still safe to drive. Everyone ages differently. For this reason, there is no certain age when people should stop driving. A 90-year-old in good health may be quite capable of driving safely, while a 60-year-old whose vision or motor skills are declining may need to stop.

Determining that it is no longer safe to drive is an extremely difficult and emotional issue. The inability to drive signifies a loss of independence and most are worried that they will no longer be able to do the things they want to do. So, how do you know if it’s time to give up the car keys? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do other drivers often honk at me?
  • Have I had some accidents, even if they are only “fender benders”?
  • Do I get confused or lost, even on roads I know?
  • Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • Have family and/or friends said they are worried about my driving?
  • Am I driving less because I am not as sure about my driving as I used to be?
  • Do I have trouble moving my foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or do I confuse the two?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to think about whether or not you are still a safe driver.

As you age, your joints may get stiff and your muscles may weaken. This can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely. Your eyesight may change as you get older. At night, you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Glare can also be a problem — from oncoming headlights, street lights, or the sun. It might be harder to see people, things, and movements outside your direct line of sight. Your hearing may change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens, or noises from your own car. That can be a problem because these sounds warn you when you may need to pull over or get out of the way.

In order to drive safely, you need to be able to react quickly to other cars and people on the road. You need to be able to make quick decisions and to remember what to do. Changes over time might slow how fast you react. You may find that your reflexes are getting slower. Stiff joints or weak muscles can make it harder to move quickly. Or, it might be harder for you to do two things at the same time.

Some health problems can make it harder for people of any age to drive safely. But other conditions that are more common as you get older can also make driving difficult. For example, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and arthritis can interfere with your driving abilities. People with illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia may forget how to drive safely. They also may forget how to find a familiar place like the grocery store or even home. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, some people are able to keep driving safely for a while. But, as memory and decision-making skills worsen, driving will be affected.

Be aware of how your body and mind might be changing and talk to your doctor about any concerns. If you decide that it is no longer safe to drive, there are many ways for you to still get around, although it will require a bit of an adjustment and planning. Most older adults do not want to be a burden to family and friends, but people are usually happy to help. Assisted living communities have transportation available and also schedule many activities in the community so you may not want to go out as often.

Getting older doesn’t necessarily make you an unsafe driver. And maybe you already know that driving at night, on the highway, or in bad weather is a problem for you. But it’s important to be aware of changes that may affect driving skills over time and recognize when it’s time to stop driving completely.

Welbrook at Bloomington is a new, state-of-the-art Senior Living Community located at 1402 Leslie Drive in Bloomington. They offer Independent/Assisted Living and Memory Care. “Living Life Well” at Welbrook means having the support, care, and compassion to continue a lifestyle with just a change of location. For additional information, contact Regan King, Community Relations Director at 309- 603-2500 or visit