Remaining independent

It seems independence is something we all fight for from the time we are very young. We've worked hard to do things on our own and apart from our parents; getting dressed, opening doors, going alone into the doctor's office. To being a teenager and dreaming about driving away from the house, drivers' license in hand and no adult passenger supervising. Then, the dream becomes college and moving away.

To have strived for independence and then to have lived for years with the freedom to come and go as we please, how do we process the thought of giving it all up when the time comes that we shouldn't drive any longer? Our bodies, minds, reflexes, vision and hearing all need to be working well in order to be a safe driver. As we age our joints become stiffer, muscles weaken, reflexes become slower, vision changes and hearing worsens.

Safety for yourself and others is what's important. So, how do you know if you are a safe driver? Ask yourself these questions:

Have family, friends, or doctors said they are worried about your driving? Do other drivers honk at you? Have you had some accidents, even if they are only "fender benders"? Do you get lost, particularly on roads you've traveled before? Do cars or people walking seem to come out of nowhere? Do you have trouble staying in your own lane? Do you drive any less because you question your abilities? Do you have trouble feeling the pedals under your feet or moving your foot between the gas and brake? Do you confuse the two pedals? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to really question if you are a safe driver and if you should continue driving.

Giving up driving does not mean you will become homebound or isolated. You just need to do a little research and planning. Start by asking friends, neighbors or family members for help. Then, consider one or more of the following organizations: At Home Senior Care, Bayada Home Health Care, Green Mountain Community Network, Neighbor to Neighbor and Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. They all offer transportation to and from medical appointments and other necessary or desired outings.

You might also consider a senior living community. Senior living communities offer many of the things you likely travel for your fitness class, your weekly hair appointment, your book club, and dining out, for instance under one roof. Many communities offer transportation to special events and for appointments, too.

For the friends and family members of an older person who you are concerned about driving, you are key to their decision making process.

Clearly share with them your concerns. Help them have a discussion about this with their physician. This has to be one of the hardest decisions for a person to make and come to terms with. Being there for your loved one, supporting them and offering alternatives so they can continue to be active and involved in the community will ultimately be the key to their success and happiness.

There are so many things that become difficult as we age. Giving up driving doesn't have to be one of them.

Kylee Ryan is the wellness and activities coordinator at Equinox Village, a senior living community in Manchester Center.


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