There's been a lot of talk and writing lately about "taking the car keys away" from seniors who may be a danger behind the wheel. It's a touchy issue because losing driving rights is a loss of independence, and that's something to fear for seniors.
Seven states, including Nevada, have laws that require doctors to report to the Department of Motor Vehicles if a patient suffers a illness that could impair his or her driving skills. From there, the DMV contacts the driver and performs fitness checks. If it's all clear, the driver continues to get behind the wheel. If not, he or she is finished with driving. Today, about 16,000 Nevada drivers over the age of 85 have valid licenses. They are retested when they come in to renew their permits.
That loss can be demoralizing to the stranded senior. No longer can he or she hop in the car and run the many errands they need to do. Independence is eroded. But the former driver has options. He or she can ask friends to help with errands - grocery shopping, doctor's appointments, social events or perhaps movies or entertainment.
Lacking such help, the person can switch to the Jump Around Carson bus system - free for seniors. You can pick up a free bus pass at the Senior Center; call 882-0151. Or try 841-7433 for the bus operations. The bus routes cover most of the city and maps and the free bus passes are available at the Carson City Senior Center off Long Street.
Yes, standing outside when it's snowing or raining is not a pleasant choice, so in bad weather one tends to hunker down and watch TV or read a book. You don't have to go the library for a new book if you have a Kindle or other book reading device. Check with the Carson Library website or phone 887-2244 for details on how to do this.
Also serving non-driving seniors is the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. RSVP has a slate of certified drivers who can pick you up for errands, doctor appointments, shopping etc. Requirement is a two-day notice for the ride so RSVP can schedule a driver. Drivers are volunteers and are not compensated for their services. Call 687-4680 to discuss your needs. You may make a small donation to to driver program but it is not required.
All of this is to say that America's love affair with autos is a strong relationship. Giving it up can be traumatic and also upset lifestyles. When family members become worried and want to take away the keys, relations can become strained. No easy answer is there.
There is something, though, every Nevada senior can do to make this all less stressful. Simply evaluate your driving yourself. Do it honestly, no cribbing or alibis.
Here are some things to be aware of:
In any accident, were you at fault? Did you ignore all those years on the road and do something foolish or inept?
Is your vision fading? This most often is a result of a cataract forming within the eyes. This accumulates with age and is often unnoticed. One indication of cataract formation is the loss of the ability to read roadside signs until they are too late for the driver to react. The operation to remove the cataracts is simple and painless, with usually one eye treated at a time. Reaction of the removal is often striking - "It's like a curtain was lifted and I can see colors again," this writer noted.
• Do you have trouble parking between lines in a parking area? That can be a result of cataracts or simple loss of steering ability or depth perception.
• Do you sometimes misjudge curbs when making a turn and run over the curbing?
• Do you find yourself driving at slow or high speeds in relation to other traffic?
• Do you misjudge time when making a left turn in the face of oncoming traffic? This can lead to serious accident.
• Do you forget to turn off car lights or to lock the car? This can be simple aging but is an indication of loss of responsibility.
There are other things that could be unique to you; only you can take those into account. But you owe it yourself and other drivers to be honest about your capabilities.
If you are seeking help in stopping a relative or a relation driving, check with the Dementia Resource Center of Northern Nevada at (775) 283-9885.
I know that if I lost the ability to drive my lifestyle would change radically, but then I could always badger my political lunch table diners to give me a ride.
• Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.