Thursday, March 6, 2008

Driving - One Woman's Perspective

This was just too good to leave as a comment to the "question of the week." If you have experiences to add, please send them to the "contact" address on the left-hand sidebar. Enjoy!

Do I have experience with the elderly driving?! Father-in-law, mother-in-law, mother. My father-in-law had become a hazard a few years before he died in 1995. He didn't have an accident, but I'm sure it was due to watchful, defensive drivers in the other cars. Fortunately, he had 3 grown children. I never had to say a word. I get slightly nervous when I was a passenger, but figured I would not live forever, anyway. Checking out in a big 'ole Lincoln was not really my style. My father, the Chevrolet dealer, would roll over in his grave if he thought I would succumb to a car wreck in a Ford. But, all was well, no one was hurt and he passed away never knowing what a bad driver he had become.

My mother-in-law drove very little in her later years - past 85. Therefore, when she did, her skills were seriously degraded. Riding with her terrified me! She seemed oblivious to - anyone - at all around her! After 90, she drove at her chosen speed, used the part of the street she wanted and generally terrorized the driving community. But, she too, was fortunate. Her only accidents occurred in her own driveway and carport. Once she was trying to back her car out and somehow managed to get that big Lincoln - sideways - in the carport! Actually, I think that demonstrates some kind of special skill. I certainly couldn't do it! She found herself "stuck" and called her neighbor to come get her car straight. I can't imagine how he managed without driving across her lawn, but nothing seemed the worse for wear except her back bumper being scratched and her pride severely wounded.

She also failed to stop soon enough in her carport and ran in to the steps, I think. Regardless, she had a nasty boo-boo on her front grill. She asked my husband if she should have it fixed. She said, "You know, your daddy wouldn't let a car go with a place like that!" Phil assured her that the ding wasn't that bad. He couldn't see any point in fixing one problem if she was to continue driving. She was taking me somewhere once, and managed to run over her own yard light. Well, she didn't run "over" it, she just ran the side of her car along the pole. Her hearing never deteriorated and she heard the scraping. She stopped quickly and asked me to get out and see what was happening. Well, of course, I couldn't get out! My door was jammed against the light pole. She couldn't figure out my difficulties. I just told her to turn the steering wheel and go slowly. We got out of the driveway with a few mangled flowers and bricks she had used to trim out the base of the light. The strangest part of that story is that I didn't get out and stay at home! Me? No, I just sat in the car and let her drive me across town. But, again, I never had to say a word. (Being the in-law has its advantages!)

My mother - the current problem. She is 89 now and will be 90 on July 4th. She has always lived up to her birthday: she is a firecracker. Her biggest problem is her height. She was short to begin with, but due to osteoporosis, she has shrunk 5 inches to 4'7"! She sits on 2 cushions and apparently can see fine, however, when her car comes down the street, others see no apparent driver. In our small community, everyone knows when they see the silver Buick with no driver, it is my mother. She jokes that according to government standards, she isn't tall enough to sit in the front seat! I ride with her very comfortably on a regular basis. He highway driving is quite efficient and I'm totally comfortable with her. She actually is a better, steadier driver than most people of any age. She keeps her speed reasonable (doesn't poke and only occasionally speeds), watches for other traffic, makes good time and maneuvers our curvy Ozark Mountains highways quite nicely.

But in town? That's a different story. She kinda' "rolls" around town. She steps on the brakes at the appropriate moments. But she seems to never actually step on the gas. She slowly rolls around corners at such a rate that a car which was originally 3 blocks away, has to stop for her. In an effort to not get into the wrong lane, she's run her right rear wheel into a few ditches, but I think that must be better than her making wide turns, crossing the center line. A couple of years ago I had a friend tell me that my mother's driving was hazardous. I was surprised. The friend told me of her being on the wrong side of the street, pulling out in front of people, etc. Of course, that concerned me a great deal. These were problems I had never witnessed. I made a point to watch her for several weeks. I saw none of the things reported to me.

Mother is especially careful because she always says, "No matter what happened, if I have an accident, it will be said that I'm too old to drive! No one will notice anything else." Her car is her independence and she will not give it up without a fight. I assumed either my friend had an "issue" with older drivers or had seen someone else driving badly. The problem? About 3 months ago she tripped and fell, breaking both shoulders. We all thought that would be the end of her driving and many other things. WRONG!! She has had good care and worked very hard on the therapy. So, guess what! Yep, you got it: she's driving again. My husband bravely went with her on her maiden voyage. She had asked someone to "check her out." (She's not stupid, just stubborn.) Phil said she did fine. She has now been driving for several weeks and her care-givers ride with her. The 2 women in question both say she is driving fine. She only has one more week with a care-giver, then she will be on her own again.

Are my fingers crossed? You bet. Am I going to be the one to take her car keys? You bet I'm *not*! I'm still afraid of her. My advice on dealing with the elderly driving? I don't have any. I've just been lucky, I guess. I suggest you try to be the in-law or a coward. It has worked for me!


Anonymous said... mom, my Aunt Dana and Mammaw drove to Miami, Florida, 5 years ago....Mammaw is now 102, so you can do the math!! Aunt Dana is driving, and Mom comments..."Dana do you know how fast you are going???????" Answer: "102mph!!!" Mammaw is in the back seat laying down, oblivious to the whole thing!! Old Folks driving....I think I have 2 of them that I am supposed to take care of....and all I see is tail lights and dust!!

Fab Grandma said...

This is a very serious problem. When does the freedom of the senior, by being able to drive him or herself wherever they want to go, become more important than the safety of all others on the road? Sometimes we have to take a stand, out of love for our elderly friends and family, that will not be popular with them.

We did not actually take the key ring away from my M-I-L, but we took the car kesy off of it when she was notlooking and someone is always there to take her where she needs to go, because she is dangerous behind the wheel.

She still insists she can drive, but my God, she wears a morphine patch and takes two other pain medications! If she can barely hold her head upright long enough to watch the 5 o'clock news, how can she safely drive to the grocery store?