The bank, grocery store, hardware store, hairdresser. The doctor and dentist. Church or temple. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. What if you had no way to get there? Wherever “there” is for you today, there is no doubt that giving up driving will impact your sense of helplessness.
It is not surprising that the discussion regarding the end to driving is met with panic and resistance. There is a lot of emotion tied up in this topic. The Society of Certified Senior Advisors lists fear of dependency above fear of death. Being unable to move about your community without assistance is the beginning of that stage seen as dependency.
Especially in New Hampshire where, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, only 0.6% of workers use public transportation. http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/state_transportation_statistics/new_hampshire/pdf/entire.pdf
To put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of the elderly, let’s compare this to a good New England Nor’Easter. As romantic as it seems, three days into a blizzard and many folks have cabin fever. We can’t wait to get back on the road. We are desperately in need groceries because we forgot to stock up. Even worse, we need our hair done (note a bit of sarcasm, but let’s face it ladies, this can make or break our day). More seriously, what if we are in need of chemotherapy to treat cancer and can’t get there. (Seniors Helping Seniors of NH recently had a call from someone who no longer drives, lives on his own, and has been diagnosed with cancer. His comment that a ride was going to determine his longevity was heart wrenching.) Now let’s say this is not just a three day blizzard, but the snowstorm of your life- the moment someone tells you that you will no longer drive again.
In a perfect world we would find that each aging person decides on their own, and prior to reaching a point of being dangerous, to give up the keys to the car. But we don’t live in a perfect world. One thing we do know is that there is no specific age when driving should end. Making this all the more difficult a conversation.
If you find that you are facing this discussion with your family member, remember first that this will be emotional. The anger, denial or frustration that you hear is likely that fear of dependency. A reminder that many things are beginning to feel more out of control. Recognize that the end to independent driving for a senior will require planning for transportation. It is not enough to just say “mom you can’t drive anymore.” Think ahead about ideas that will create improved quality of life while limiting or ending driving.
Seniors Helping Seniors of Southern and Seacoast NH specializes in improving quality of life. Many of those receiving our loving senior care were resistant at first and had some anger that they could not drive any longer. What is remarkable to observe is how the heart softens as a relationship develops. What began as a weekly ride to the hairdresser and grocery store, or the doctor and lab, or to dialysis or chemotherapy, evolves in to a dynamic and lasting friendship. Because the end of driving resulted in the beginning of a meaningful relationship with someone who understands.