Friday, October 5, 2007


My husband's grandfather was involved in a car accident last week. He is in his 90s and he still drives. They were out driving in the country. He hit a pole head on - we think the car may be totaled (it looks totaled to me from the photos). He is having back problems, his wife (my husband's step grandmother) had to have pins put in her hand. We are lucky they're still with us.

Many of you might cringe, but for someone in his 90s, my grandfather in law is still fairly with it. He and his second wife have recently moved into an assisted living facility. That was an argument in itself, and they're still not completely comfortable with living there. And she (in particular) doesn't want him to give up driving.

At this point, we're praying that the insurer will no longer insure him. If not, things might get heated.

This is a difficult place to be in, and it will only get better. I am watching my in laws go through this with their parents, and in a few years I will be going through this with my own parents.

It's a treacherous dance, because these people are your parents. They raised you, changed your diapers, cleaned up your vomit. They've seen you at your worst. And (for the most part), they have been independent, responsible and supportive of you. Some parents (like my father for example), seem to refuse to listen to their children (me) on principle. I'm his daughter (as opposed to a peer) - so he takes everything I say with a grain of salt.

So you want to give them a way out, as an adult, with dignity. It just seems to get progressively more ugly. Sometimes with the older person getting angry and resentful of the people who care about them - simply because they are insisting that they are a danger to themselves and others. It's a rough place to be in. As I listen to my parents' struggles with their parents, I mention that one of the things they CAN do is prepare so we don't go through this again. (I'm hopeful, but the chances are 50/50 at best. I come from a long line of very stubborn people).

Sure, it's early to worry about this, but as you all know, I like to worry.

As far as my grandfather in law goes, I remember being told that driving was a privilege, not a right. This grated on my nerves at 16. I was the person who got their driver's license the day after I turned sixteen. I was thrilled to drive.

I do have some empathy for older drivers. I would hate not to drive. Unlike where my cousin chanson lives, I don't have many public transportation options. Or markets within walking distance. I am fiercely independent, the last thing I want to do is give up that independence. Depending on friends, relatives to drive me where I need to go.

But we have to face the facts. People get older. They lose response time. They lose hearing and vision. They may lose their memory or comprehension. It sucks. Sometimes, you're just not safe behind a wheel. If we're lucky, people are involved in accidents where they are the only ones injured. But what if others are injured, or killed? And, to be the economic rain on this parade, what about our collective auto insurance rates?

Any laws regarding senior driving or even testing someone every five years to see if they should still be able to drive would never pass. Seniors are an enormous voting block. This would be political suicide.

It's a problem that's not going anywhere. And with the baby boomers getting older, we will run into it more and more often. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

UPDATE 10/07 - The latest news is that my grandfather in law has now refused to continue driving and told his wife he didn't want to talk about it. (She had already spoken with a niece who would drive them to look for a used car next weekend). His comment was that he had done his best and he was done. We'll see where this ends up, but for now I think the entire family is reassured.


C. L. Hanson said...

It's true, it's difficult to give up independence (and even to admit that one is getting old). At the same time, it's not fair for unsafe drivers to be endangering other people on the road. That's one reason why alternate transportation options are so important (as I argued in the post you linked to above - thanks!).

As far as my own parents are concerned, I feel like they've had enough difficulty dealing with ornery parents themselves that they're already making it a priority to think about how to move on gracefully. I know I'm already thinking about it myself (as I discussed in the same post). Sometimes a bad example (that makes you say "Man, I don't ever want to be like that / put my kids through that!") is more useful than a good example... ;^)

Aerin said...

Thanks Chanson for your comments. Much of the issue is psychological - the assisted living facility takes all sorts of trips shopping, grocery shopping, etc. but you have to ride with everyone else and go on their schedule. It's a rough place to be in.

Freckle Face Girl said...

It is a very tough transition. The shift in power of having their children tell them what to do is probably the hardest part. That generation is probably one of the most independent minded. Hopefully, the baby boomer generation is eases up a little on our generation.

Anonymous said...

Please, I implore anyone who will listen, if I am not able to drive, physically restrain me.

Aerin said...

Thanks FFG. I certainly hope so.

Thanks Pete - I wish it were that easy. Funny how when people reach a certain age, everything they said before seems to no longer apply. (Sure, I said to not let me drive, but I really didn't mean it). Not that you would be like that, of course, just that I've seen it happen.