As our publisher has been at pains to point out, this is not so much a website for oldies as an observational organ for those of us who are past the first flush of youth. It is therefore natural that, from time to time, we feature items upon aspect of life that affect senior citizens more than others.
The subject of my piece today is that of motoring and specifically the point at which more senior drivers ought to give it up.
This issue of gradually surrendering your independence – and often, as in this case, something that you may have always enjoyed – is a sensitive one, both for the individual concerned and their loved ones.
No matter any brave general pronouncements we may have made as old age appears on our horizon – e.g. “When the time comes, will someone just please tell me, because the last thing I want to be is a burden to anyone” – it is a completely different matter when, perhaps out of the blue, your offspring and/or a friend nervously introduces a topic such as “Do you think you still ought to be driving?” into a conversation.
To be blunt, it must initially seem like an affront, an outrage – not least because, from your perspective, jumping into your car and nipping off to the shops, or going out for lunch, entirely at your own volition and under your own steam, is something you’ve taken for granted for fifty years or more minimum.
And yet, at some point presumably, it must come to us all.
Yesterday I went to visit my father, who lives on his own. When I arrived, he was out at the dentist’s, so I made a coffee for the handyman and his daughter who were on site to repair a drain, a task that involved ripping up an area of the tarmac drive, installing a new drain, and then ‘making good’.
During our ‘catch up’ conversation, the handyman informed me that his father – in his mid-eighties – had recently given up driving. I was interested to know the circumstances.
Apparently said gent, never quite the sharpest tool in the box, had been having the occasional minor prang in his car for some time, most of which he had been able to ‘explain away’ – something, of course, at which older people become generally quite adept. However, a few weeks previously, he had driven, at no particular pace, straight into the back of a van. His two sons had later sat him down and explained that they were convinced that he should give up driving before he injured himself or worse, injured someone else. He had reluctantly accepted their advice and, after an awkward period during which his pride made him reluctant to use the ‘mobility scooter’ they’d bought him in compensation, he now seemed to have a new lease of life. He now happily travelled to the shops, or to see him pals, on said scooter – sometimes on the pavement, sometimes on the road, which causes his sons some concern still – but at least he wasn’t driving any more.
Another recent example of the problem involved one of my Canadian cousins, who happened to be a doctor. Having formed the view that my aunt – her mother – was no longer safe on the roads, she had arranged for her to visit the doctor for a general consultation that was to include a driving assessment. When making the appointment, the doctor concerned assured her that he would give her mother a thorough set of tests, designed to establish whether or not she was still okay to drive.
“No you won’t. Watch my lips …” my cousin responded, slightly incongruously as she was speaking on the telephone, “… when you give her the tests, you will find her unfit to drive, okay? …”
Thus – by getting a medical professional and trusted third party to ‘do the deed’ – my cousin had been able to get her mother off the road. Perhaps this, or some variation of it, is as kind a solution to this vexed issue as any.
This morning I read in the media of a sad case in which a young teenager and her mother were mown down at a bus stop – mother injured, daughter killed – by an old age pensioner who lost control of her car.
Some of them are easy to embrace or come to terms with, others less so. I like to think of myself as a ‘glass half full’ type of person, but I also recognise, and regularly discuss with others of a similar vintage, the fact that ‘growing up’ (which humans do continually all their lives) sometimes involves accepting one’s limitations.
Which, for those of us beyond the age of fifty, are gradually but inexorably encroaching upon our faculties and physical abilities.
I’ve been braying that commendable “When the time comes, somebody just tell me …” mantra for a decade or more now.
I wonder how I’ll react when, as one day will no doubt happen, someone close to me actually does it.