Coping with the Loss of Your Driver's License
by Kelly O'Shea Carney, Ph.D., CMC
Most seniors dread the very idea of it. Giving up a driver's license is viewed as the death knell for individual independence. We live in a mobile society, and to participate fully in that society, wheels are seen as a "must". Yet, as a person ages, physical changes can conspire to make safe driving impossible. Macular degeneration and the resulting loss of vision, peripheral neuropathy and the numbness in feet and legs that go along with it and Parkinson's disease that causes tremors and impaired visual spatial skills, are among some of the culprits that cause independent, capable older adults to surrender their licenses. Kudos should go to the individuals who recognize that age related medical changes have compromised their safety on the road and act on that knowledge. It is not an easy thing to give up your license when you know the inconvenient life changes that choice will bring. Yet, these brave souls make the choice for the greater good and we owe them a debt of thanks for their sacrifice. But what happens after the license is gone and life goes on?
To insure adaptive coping with the loss of one's ability to drive, it is important to insure that other areas of one's life remain intact, even if transportation is a challenge. The key areas to attend to are connectedness with others, purposeful activity and independence in function. Maintaining one's usual routine in these areas and/or finding new ways of achieving these goals is important if one is to continue to feel good and be happy.
To maintain connectedness to others, a few changes may be required in the way an older adult stays in touch with friends and family. For example, face to face visits may be fewer and farther between due to lack of transportation, so alternative ways of connecting are called for. Phone calls, email, and even old-fashioned letter writing can help people remain connected to those dear to them. For friends and loved ones in the area, a bit of assertiveness to request a ride may be required. Or as an alternative, inviting others to your own home can insure that you see the people you enjoy.
Maintaining purposeful activity may require some creativity for the person who is used to being "out and about" all day, but it can be done. For example, volunteer activities that help others and allow the senior to feel like they are making a difference can be done from home. Phone calls to shut-ins, organizing volunteers via email for a church or community group, and/or stuffing envelopes for a local charity are all volunteer activities that can be done from the comfort of your own living room. In addition, elders who are no longer able to drive can use the extra time at home to complete those projects around the house that have been waiting to be done, such as putting family pictures in an album, sorting through and organizing the papers, correspondence and artwork from grandkids, friends and family over the years. My mother-in-law used the time after she could no longer drive to organize papers, pictures and other memorabilia from the family homestead into boxes for each of her children. After she passed away, each of her children were blessed with a collection of family memories specific to them and their children. My mother-in-laws gift to her children is an example of purposeful, meaningful activity that doesn't require a car.
Finally, though giving up a driver's license may feel like a loss of independence, it need not be. Independence is so much more than simply driving from point A to point B. True independence is achieved by taking control of one's decisions, activities and attitude, in spite of the limitations created by life challenges. So to maintain independence after giving up a license, a person must choose to focus on preserving independence in other areas of their life, while finding resources to assist with transportation. Choose your attitude. Choose your priorities in life. Make sure that you continue to do the things that are important to you, even if it takes a little planning to get there. Research public transportation options, connect with others who can offer a lift or find an acquaintance who could use a few extra dollars for providing a ride. These are all strategies for remaining independent. Most importantly, the person who gives up their license should recognize that making a sacrifice for the right reasons is the ultimate act of independence. Take pride in your good judgment and don't let yourself feel you are less independent just because you aren't the one driving the car.
About the Author: Kelly O'Shea Carney, Ph.D., CMC for Eldercare Assessment & Resources based in Bethlehem, PA. Her article first appeared in the March 2006 issue of Lifestyles over 50, http://www.lifestylesover50.com.