Seniors: When to ditch the car keys

In 1987, when my late grandma was 60, she voluntarily gave up her car keys. At that time, Jenny Kennedy Raines, who passed away last March due to heart failure, was still greatly independent and working a full-time job. Her thinking was that the other drivers on the road were moving way faster than she was and she was struggling to keep up. That made her fear for her safety. She knew her vision wasn't the same as it was when she first began driving the country roads of Kentucky as a teenager. Her reaction time also was slowing down. She felt the best thing to do for her safety, as well as that of others was to stop driving. But she didn't accept rides from us, unless perhaps the weather wasn't agreeable. Granny was head-strong and very independent. Not having a personal chariot any more wasn't going to slow her down. She took the bus. Her workplace offered bus passes at a reduced rate and she enjoyed the walk to and from the bus stop despite the physically demanding nature of her job. The woman who had served others as a housekeeper and caretaker her entire life on both coasts enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and be outside. She didn't hesitate to tell anyone who would listen her entire life story and compare lifestyles through the decades, starting with the Depression Era. But not everyone looks at not driving in the same way as granny. For several years now, my family has been struggling with that topic in regard to my uncle, now 67. Uncle has diabetes and heart disease. The Vietnam War Navy vet and heart attack and stroke survivor isn't as spry as granny was but he relishes his independence just as much as she did. Yes, he knows his body and abilities have been diminishing. In fact, he has had incidents that made us wince. One time, he had a diabetic moment while behind the wheel of his pickup truck. He fell asleep while sitting at a stop light. Thankfully, his foot was squarely planted on the brake. Alert motorists called 911 to report his unconscious condition. First responders arrived, woke him up, gave him a snicker bar and he was good to go. Should we as a family have voted to and taken steps to strip him of his driving privilege? It's such a difficult situation to be in. And of course, he swore to be more mindful and that everything will be OK. That's what he always said. This past fall, things changed. While he had been driving less and less as his body became less agreeable with what his mind wanted it to do, his health took an undeniable turn for the worse. He went into cardiac arrest, requiring an ICU stay, as well as rehab at a nursing home. Now, with yet another shot at life, there is no question that his truck will be sold and he will never drive again. Now that we are plotting his future living situation and transportation options, we've made some discoveries about his truck -- it hasn't been registered since 2011 and he received a citation for non-registration days before his heart failure. Remember, according to my uncle, everything was "fine." He was "fine." Peachy. My family is very small and each member is quite independent. We have always respected each other's privacy but have learned that our elders will sugar coat things to keep us youngsters from worrying about them. In hindsight, perhaps we should have been a little bit more nosey and done more. Heck, the sugary speckles that we knew were enough to act on. I urge families to get a little more involved in each other's business. Have that discussion about health and driving. For those of you with stubborn sugar coaters, the DMV has a form you can submit to report a driver you feel may be unhealthy enough to drive. Check out www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl10.htm or request a DMV reexamination at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/driverlicense/reexam.htm. Most importantly, we drivers must know ourselves and respect the lives of others around us enough to say, "You know what? I think I may be a danger to myself and others on the road. I should probably look at other transportation options." There are many alternatives to the private vehicle here in Santa Cruz County. Check out the Guide to Specialized Transportation Services for seniors and the differently abled at http://sccrtc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/2010_Specialized_Transportation_Guide.pdf. If the links don't open when your click, copy and paste into web browser and the pages will come up.
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