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Aging Matters: Balancing safety with loss of freedoms is difficult

  • Published Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, at 9:27 p.m.

Learning to grow old is no easy lesson – there are no Cliffs Notes. The most devastating casualty is loss of freedoms.

Aging happens gradually. One thing at a time fades, takes more effort, energy, motivation. So we adapt lifestyles, deal crisis by crisis. When a confident stride turns into the old man shuffle, walking sticks become more than fashion. Today’s walkers, chairs and a wide choice of battery-driven vehicles have removed much of the “handicap” from physical disabilities.

The final knell for blessed freedom tolled the day I gave up driving. Depressing, yes. It was my own decision.

For several years after moving to retirement quarters, I was our driver, confident and competent. On one of our last brief rides, I asked my husband, a driving pro, “Do you notice any deterioration of my driving skills?” “No,” he replied with conviction. “And if I did, I’d tell you.” And believe me, he would have.

But the day I could no longer climb into the driver’s seat, I had no choice. I’ve kept my faithful minivan with its lift for my personal wheels, but now I must recruit a chauffeur. Or stay at home.

A recent front page report on senior driver safety was loaded with disquieting statistics. We elders are smugly certain that teens cause most road mishaps. Kids behind the wheel lack the good-sense gene. They make stupid decisions – phoning, texting, racing, showing off. But updated statistics place way too many of our generation right up – or down – there with the young’uns. I like to think that wouldn’t have applied to me. Now, I know it won’t.

Giving up cherished activities in favor of safety and energy can be emotionally painful, but we’ve gotta recognize the gulf between needs and wants and reprioritize each decision. Inevitably, going somewhere to see or do something we’d enjoy takes such a toll on energy that we often opt out. Comfort trumps pleasure. In fact, comfort becomes pleasure.

What about you? Have the kids dropped hints? Do you want to join those ugly statistics? Don’t press your luck.

Once, driving equaled independence.

Sayonara.

Phyllis Spade, 87, has made Sedgwick Plaza her home for the past six years. She welcomes your comments at phylace@yahoo.com.

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