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When Is It Time to Hang Up the Keys?

Free seminar helps families talk to older drivers

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Harriet Warren, AARP Driver Safety

Harriet Warren, 85, of Tucson, still drives her own car. Her children worry about her driving. "We Need to Talk" helps families prepare for that conversation. — Andy DeLisle

Here's a little secret about talking with an older parent about a possible end to driving: Try some small talk.

Start with, perhaps, the hazards of driving in inclement weather. Then work up to what happens when eyes age and reflexes slow.

That approach worked for Diane Valuck, 65, of Tucson, when she and her mother, Jean Valuck, had long conversations in 2001 about hanging up the keys. They included the perilous winter driving in Michigan, where Jean lived.

Jean eventually acknowledged she could no longer handle the winter road conditions, and she didn't fancy the cost of keeping a car in good repair.

At 85, Jean made her decision. She sold her Pontiac and for the last decade of her life used the transportation offered by her assisted living center for shopping and medical appointments.

The elements in the Valucks' example come right off the pages of an AARP seminar, "We Need to Talk."

When is it time to talk?
The free seminar, also available online as a 90-minute webinar, helps family members recognize when to initiate "the talk" and illustrates how to work toward the decision after warning signs appear.

Those signs can include getting lost in familiar territory, running over curbs, paint smears on the fender or dents in the mailbox post by the driveway.

"We're not telling anybody to stop driving," said Hal Parrott, 79, of Scottsdale, a seminar leader. "If there's a problem, we just want you to know how to proceed."

Some of the tips seem aimed directly at families like that of Harriet Warren, 85, of Tucson.

Warren says she still drives quite well. But her children, who live in various parts of the country, worry.

The seminar urges people like Warren's children to gather plenty of solid information before jumping to a conclusion that a parent should no longer drive.

Next page: What about alternatives to driving? »

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