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Posted January 3, 2007

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Elderly Behavior: When Driving Presents a Danger

Q. My mother-in-law will be 87 this month, and for the most part she is in good condition. However, she is showing signs of aging. Her hearing is poor, even with expensive hearing aids. Her eyesight, we feel, is not good either, but she insists that she does not need glasses.

The biggest problem is her driving. She refuses to give it up, but she is very dangerous. There have been at least six times that she's screwed up, but fortunately did not hurt anyone. We want to pull her license before she seriously hurts or kills herself or others. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do?

Susan G., Palmer, Alaska.

A. First of all, I would schedule an appointment for your mother-in-law to see the doctor for a check-up. Before the exam, contact the physician to discuss your family's concern about driving. Mention the difficulties with vision and hearing, and be sure to tell him about the six accidents your mother-in-law has caused.

Following the exam, he can write to state or local authorities to request that she be retested for driving aptitude. I would also contact the local police to ask their advice. Some locations have driving evaluation centers for seniors. Testing is done for hearing and vision, and reaction times and judgment factors are also evaluated. In the meantime, you may want to consider taking the keys away, or disabling the car.

I wish you and your family the best with this difficult issue. Please let me know how things work out.

This answer is provided by Paula P. Tchirkow, MSW, LSW, ACSW, president of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Geriatric Consultants and a certified and licensed geriatric care manager. She specializes in geriatric care management for elderly parents and relatives, and middle-aged adults who have chronic illnesses. In addition to working with families, she also works with attorneys, financial advisors, physicians, bank trust officers and human resource directors. She can be reached at

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