Unless you have guardianship or conservatorship over the parent, you cannot legally take their keys. Until proven incapacitated in a court of law or voluntarily turning over control through a Power of Attorney, they are free to make their own choices, even bad ones. For you to take their freedom, you could find yourself in a pickle.  For example, some children have hidden the car and then the parent has called the police, reporting the car being stolen.

The Problem

If your parent has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may not realize the danger that they pose to themselves and others. Their reaction times are compromised. Physically, their eyesight and hearing may be failing. They may struggle with decision-making and multi-tasking. Any of those issues put them at risk.

What To Do

Some caregivers have had success by “losing” the keys and taking time to “find” them. Others have “disabled” the car and taken it to get “fixed.” The caregivers take their time “finding” or “fixing” and then distracting the parent with something else.

Some seniors will still insist on driving or find ways to get behind the wheel. You are not liable yourself for any harm caused by the parent unless you give the parent permission to use your own car to drive and know that they are unfit to do so. However, if your parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may be able to provide alternatives like a friend or family member is going that direction anyway, or you can distract them from the conversation long enough for the driving impulse to pass.


  • If driving still becomes an issue, you can recommend the driver safety program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Their driver evaluation and rehabilitation program has a two-appointment assessment. The first is in-clinic where they test things like reaction speed, visual acuity, road sign recognition, and judgment. The second appointment is an on-the-road assessment. Recommendations are then made based on the evaluation.
  • You can also write to the Tennessee Department of Safety yourself. Submit all details of your concern in writing to:
  • The best solution will always be to have the senior themselves accept the change of circumstances and voluntarily give up the keys. However, it is easier said than done. Often a conversation with an elder law attorney can help smooth the way and signing a Power of Attorney can provide a step in the direction of care and safety for the senior and others around.

We Can Help

The good news is that you have options, and more options are available to you the earlier that you start your planning. Please let us help you to evaluate your individual needs and develop a plan that will give you peace of mind for whatever comes your way.

For more information, contact our Lebanon, TN office at 615-444-3568 and schedule your appointment today.