The good news is that we are living longer and enjoying our families and hobbies longer. The bad news is that, well, not entirely… as we age, our bodies start to fail us in ever more serious ways. We’re not able to do all that we once were, and this can be aggravating.
A degradation in eyesight and/or hearing can create a situation where one is unable to safely drive a car. Yet we have been driving safely for decades, and we’re dependent on the car for getting around! We don’t want to give up our independence!
Recently Freddy (a friend whose parents both turned ninety this year) and his siblings had to confront this unpleasant aspect of parental aging. The father (Roland) has observed the deterioration of his eyesight over the past several years and had mentally prepared himself for the day when he could not drive. The mother (Clarice) was not prepared; her own mental faculties had been deteriorating yet she had not been able to acknowledge what others riding with her had noticed- she was becoming dangerous by not being aware of all that was happening on the road.
Clarice was adamant that she was a safe driver while it was evident to family that she was not. They felt that if anything happened to her- or others!- they would be partially culpable for not acting in time.
Freddy’s siblings gathered and discussed the situation several times; they sought advice and researched the situation. It was obvious that they needed to take the keys to the car away, yet to have plans in place so that neither parents’ lifestyle would be impinged. It was important that the parents maintain their outside activities- it kept them vital.
The siblings found that:
- pre-scheduled point-to-point bus service for the disabled elderly is available for a reasonable cost
- car services are available where bus services are not available
- when going to social activities, the parent can ‘carpool’ with another participant with whom s/he has made a friend
- siblings living close to the parents can pick them up to make combined shopping / market trips
Knowing that there would be heavy resistance on the part of Clarice, Freddy and his siblings brought in two of her best friends who would be sympathetic to the situation and help with communication. Two siblings and the two friends met with Clarice at the same time that two other siblings met with Roland separately. They explained the situation while lovingly highlighting the benefits, especially the parents would not give up their independence.
Freddy’s brother took the keys to the car, drove it away that day and had it sold in a week. The alternate transportation plans were implemented immediately. The siblings and their families were in daily contact to make sure everything was working to the satisfaction of the parents. Drug prescriptions were converted to mail-order fulfillment.
While Clarice was extremely resistant for several weeks, the parents found that:
- by selling the family car, the savings in car expense can more than pay for the new transportation costs
- by riding rather than driving, they are more relaxed and enjoy the trip better
- they did not give up any activities; their independence was maintained
The moral of the story: don’t be afraid to address uncomfortable situations that will arise as a result of aging; always treat people with dignity; always make sure of a win-win outcome.