The government’s recent move to reduce the number of seniors driving has long-term implications for elderly citizens. Driving gives people independence and freedom. Take away their freedom and part of their lifestyle, and a breakdown in mental health starts to occur.
In rural areas, if there is a bus, it doesn’t run frequently or stop close by for everyone. Many seniors are able to get into their car, but couldn’t walk more than a few yards to reach a bus stop.
Most of us know the feeling of trying to explain something when someone has tied your wrists together. Well, that is the same kind of feeling someone has when their freedom and independence are forcibly taken away and they can’t go shopping, to the doctor or anywhere without having to ask someone else to take them. How intimidating, and how shameful that makes a person feel when they have been used to being able to plan their own life and look after themselves!
This is what the government is doing to seniors by forcing them to go to another town, sometimes through the mountains or on icy roads to take a computer and driving test. Most seniors are not computer literate and yet are forced to take a test on the computer and drive in a strange town in a vehicle to which they are unaccustomed. They are given a test by their physician, usually without being forewarned to take care how they answer the questions, because the results will determine if their driver’s licence is renewed.
When one examines the statistics of what age group has the most car accidents, we find it is not the seniors. It is young people in their 20s and 30s who cause most accidents. Seniors are usually careful to drive locally and not at night. That is not to say that all seniors are good drivers; there are bad drivers in every age group.
The loss of independence and lifestyle choice is devastating to anyone who is already noticing some changes physically and mentally. Our health is very much linked to our confidence to be independent and responsible for our own lives. When part of who we are, how we live our lives and the choices we make are restricted, we may well become depressed and introverted, not feel like eating and lose interest in how we look after ourselves. We become ill, and we may spend more time in bed, causing muscle stiffness and atrophy. If we are taken to the doctor, he or she may not be able to determine the cause of the illness in physical terms. We become a burden on the medical system and on those around us.
With a compassionate and understanding society, seniors can continue to function gracefully and healthily into their later years. By supporting their identity as independent and responsible beings as long as possible, the government can save millions in health care while seniors enjoy and contribute to the lives of those in their community.
Christine Munkerud is a volunteer with the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.