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GUEST COLUMN: Giving Up More Than Just the Car Keys

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

By Robin Williams, CEO, SilverLink LLC

Type the phrase “When should my elderly parents stop driving?” into any search engine and you’ll find dozens of articles offering advice about how to gently—or not so gently—bring up the issue. What you’re less likely to find, however, is much about how losing driving privileges can affect an elder’s overall well-being.

A research review conducted in 2016 by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health offers some insight. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the review looked at 16 studies that compared older adults who’d stopped driving with those still on the road.

The findings were striking.

Five studies focused on depression symptoms. Overall, older adults were twice as likely to see worsening depression when they stopped driving, even when factors such as age, physical health and mental fitness were factored in. Giving up driving resulted in faster decline in cognitive function and physical health. It was also associated with a 51-percent reduction in the size of social networks of friends and relatives. Former drivers were also nearly five times as likely as current drivers to be admitted to a nursing home, assisted living community, or retirement home, after adjusting for marital status or co-residence.

Though researchers aren’t positive that the health problems are a direct result of giving up the car keys, they suspect it’s a vicious cycle. Worsening health causes older people to stop driving. That, in turn, can speed their decline.

If you’re caring for an elderly parent who has—or is about to—surrender the car keys, what can you do to minimize the negative impacts to his or her well-being?

  1. Talk with your loved one about his or her transportation needs. Assess how much support is required.

  2. Present alternative methods of getting around, such as family caregivers, public transportation, taxis, buses, and services such as Uber and Lyft. New volunteer ride-sharing services targeting seniors, such as Senior Ride Sumner, are another option.

  3. If your parent is open to trying out transportation alternatives, offer to go along for the ride. Change is always easier with support.

Keep in mind that it is very difficult to tell a parent that he or she should no longer drive. If your parent is less than cooperative, you have a few options. One is contacting the driver’s Primary Care Physician, who may refer the elder to a health care provider for testing or a driver evaluation like this one: TDOT also offers a good resource. View it at

With a little planning, you can help your elderly parents lead active and fulfilling lives without putting their—or others’—safety at risk.

Robin Williams is founder and CEO of SilverLink LLC, a referral service for hospitals and individuals that provides a full spectrum of placement options and resources for seniors. For more information, call (615) 860-1312 or visit


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