Agnes Herman, NCT
A serious matter that concerns all of us: senior driving. When is it time to give up the keys?
At 16, 17 or 18, we gleefully take on the responsibility, the privilege of driving an automobile. It is the most exciting event of the tumultuous teen years. It is freedom, independence, pending adulthood. Later, at 60 or 80 or even 90 we confront the question raised by our children or friends, silently or spoken out loud: Is it safe for me to continue to drive?
I never had a chance to muse on the question; circumstances yanked my license from me after a series of obstacles threw my 58 years of driving into question. I lost my license and my independence about eight years ago. I was angry, fought the loss —- but finally made peace with the fact that “senior moments” can be dangerous.
A child crossing the street, a mom in the crosswalk, a dad with a toddler, a fellow senior with cane could be endangered while I slid through a senior moment and ran a red light. These days, I am quite comfortable in the passenger seat; the yearning has given way to good sense.
We all have friends and family members who cannot or will not give up the privilege of driving, despite momentary confusion and occasional disorientation. I have a couple of cousins close to my age. They used to be good buddies. Then one said to the other, “I will no longer ride with you! You are driving dangerously!” Naturally, the recipient of this accusation became insulted; they do not talk to each other.
The fact remains there is more than one “dangerous” driver out there. When it comes to our age group, it is a particularly sensitive subject, because in the course of our aging, we give up many little signs of independence. Often, we must depend on others to explain details that come in the mail; we find balancing the checkbook suddenly a huge challenge. We have to write everything down because we don’t remember the little things anymore.
My husband used to call me his personal encyclopedia; that would no longer be true. Someone has to come by and open the new juice bottle; we need help rolling the trash to the curb. So the thought of giving up the keys to our independent movements is an anathema. But there is help to either sharpen our driving skills or help us comfortably give up the keys.
To me, one of the most important topics is “Family Conversations About Driving.” Questions arise, and our (adult) children get nervous. As soon as they raise the question, we bite off their heads with a retort that silences and stuns everyone.
Recently, my niece in another city was worrying about her mother, who still had the keys to her car. There were small signs of developing dementia. Mother had rejected any conversation about driving. As a last resort, my niece threw the ball to the doctor, who relieved her mom of the car keys.
Resources include many ways to get out and about. I have spoken before of the willingness of friends to pitch in and take us to the store or doctor. Independence is precious; I have found I can assert mine in many ways that do not include driving. I can say no instead of always being agreeable; I can pick and choose what I wish to do, what I do not wish to do and so can you.
Giving up the keys is not easy, but neither is giving up a limb —- or a life.
Agnes Herman is a freelance columnist (91 years old). Contact her at 760-744-6878; email to firstname.lastname@example.org.