Taking Away the Car Keys

As our loved ones age, one of the most important things, both to them and to the ones that care for them, is maintaining their sense of independence. At a stage of life when it seems that much of what they previously took for granted is being taken away from them, we try to do anything in our power to give our seniors as much control and independence as possible. The loss of dignity that comes from not being in control of small, basic daily activities, and the toll that takes on our loved ones’ psyches, is immeasurable, and is something that we avoid at all costs. However, this desire must be balanced against the very real need to keep our friends and family safe and healthy. While many people remain sprightly and vibrant as they age, it is no secret that age unavoidably brings both physical and mental decline. This decline brings with it many large-scale consequences and implications, and requires what is often a drastic shift in the pace and style of life that a person was once accustomed to. However, it’s really in the small details that these issues manifest themselves.

One particular area in which we can really feel this dilemma is driving. Driving is something so fundamental to our day to day life, and something we do so unconsciously, that it becomes hard for us to imagine how we would function if we were unable to drive. In many ways, driving is a small (or not so small, depending on how we look at it) aspect of our lives that enables us to be independent. Just remember how excited you first were when you got your driver’s license as a teenager—no more asking your parents to take you and your friends to the mall! No more sitting at home, with no way to get to all the places you wanted to go! What the ability to drive gives to us all is the ability to be independent—to be able to do the things we want and need to do on our own, without relying on others. To a senior who is unable to drive, those small tasks, jobs, errands and activities that make up a life are just small, constant challenges to their dignity. Want to go to the mall to look at some new clothes? Want to just go to the movies for the evening, or maybe out to a nice restaurant? All things that could have once been just a short drive away. Now, however, they involve relying on someone else to be able to take you there and pick you up, and can present significant challenges to the dignity of our loved ones.

Given that, safety must be our primary concern, and the facts are worrying. As we age, there are a few key factors that are crucial to driving that may be impaired. The first is eyesight. Changes in eyesight of course can affect the ability to see distant objects, but also affect subtler things, such as depth perception, peripheral vision, and the ability to adjust to changes in light conditions. Another is the various symptoms of physical decline, such as muscular weakness, stiffness, and slowed reaction time. These things can make it difficult to maneuver the car properly, or respond in time to a dangerous situation. And even when seniors are not the cause of accidents, increased physical frailty can make any accident they are involved in significantly more dangerous to them. As the ones responsible for the care and wellbeing of our aging loved ones, it behooves us to be well aware to the risks and benefits of taking the keys away. Everyone is different, and there is no one definitive age at which we can conclusively say it is unsafe to drive.  We must always be carefully evaluating each situation on an individual basis, and making informed, reasonable decisions to safeguard both the health and the dignity of our friends and family.

If you need assistance with your loved ones who are struggling with the aging journey and/or physical disabilities, call us so we can help.

Categories: Aging, Dementia Care