Should Mom Be Driving?

As our parents age, it’s a question we inevitably ask.  If we are lucky, mom and dad realize that driving is something they are no longer comfortable doing.  More often, it’s a fight.  It’s a big step for our loved ones.  Driving is such an integral aspect of our independence.

Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that we slow down.  As an interesting example, Henry Leland started the Cadillac Motor Company when he was nearly 60 years old.   He founded Lincoln Motor Company almost a decade and a half later when he was 74!

When you think about your own loved one’s driving, here are some things to keep in mind:


Mom may be otherwise fine to drive, but may be affected by medications that make  her drowsy or less able to concentrate.  Always read the fine print and discuss with her doctor.


Like any physical activity, driving requires a certain degree of flexibility, strength and coordination.  Mom can stay safer behind the wheel for longer if she also engages in regular exercise.  A 20-minute walk several days a week will help maintain the necessary level of fitness.  Golf, gardening and other outdoor activities can also help.


Good eyesight is critical for safe driving.  Sadly, it declines for nearly everyone as we get older.   There are two important changes that occur.  Our eyes lose the ability to focus quickly and our retinas become less sensitive to light.  The amount of light we need for safe driving has been estimated to double every 13 years.  In other words, compared to a 18-year old, at 45 we need four times as much light and at 60 we need ten times as much.

Night driving is simply more challenging.  Perhaps you can negotiate with mom that she give up driving at night while she keeps her daytime privileges.  There are also simple modifications that can be made to the car, like adding blind spot mirrors and a larger rear view mirror that can significantly improve her range of visibility.


This is the 800-pound gorilla in the room!   It’s probably easy for mom to acknowledge that her eyesight has gotten worse.  It’s a lot harder to admit that her mental capabilities have declined.  If you think mom has dementia, consult a doctor.

Reaction Time

Even when there is no cognitive decline, the older mind tends to process information more slowly.  Reaction times tend to slow.

Here are some simple things you can encourage mom to do to compensate for our natural tendency to require more reaction time:

  • Maintain greater following distance between you and the car ahead.  This gives more time to react safely.
  • Eliminate distractions like the radio or cell phone
  • Use side or local roads and avoid freeways and rush hours.

If you are concerned about mom being behind the wheel, share with her the facts about vision and reaction times which are less offensive that the notion of mental decline.   Hopefully, she can age and still maintain a degree of independence behind the wheel.

About the Author:

Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.

They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.

Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.

Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones.  He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio.  He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.

Click here for a listing of other articles from ‘The Caring Corner’ on

Acorn provides screened and vetted in-home caregivers for clients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS and other similar conditions. Options include 24/7, live-in, weekly, weekend or hourly care. Acorn serves Chapel Hill, Durham, Hillsborough, Pittsboro and surrounding areas in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Wake counties.