My elderly mother called me in distress one day some months ago. At 81, she had been told by her doctor to stop driving her little Peugeot. Immediately.
“WhatonearthamIgoingtodo?” she wailed.
Although by her own admission she’s ‘pretty ancient’, she’s in fairly sound health, has masses of energy, a busy social life, and a boyfriend (aged 86.) She likes to visit my sister and the granchildren in London and to holiday with me in France. She goes to art exhibitions and gardens open to the public, eats out often, does all her own shopping and cooking and cleaning, visits the hairdresser and has pedicures, answers lots of questions at her local pub quiz and takes short walking holidays with friends several times a year. (I don’t know where she gets the money for all that and she seems a bit mystified herself, but that’s another matter!)
“I’ll be trapped in my home” she lamented. “My life will end.”
Now, the doctor had told her to stop driving because she has mild macular degeneration in both eyes. With previously excellent sight, she had always driven without the use of glasses or contact lenses and I’d always been astonished, as someone with shortsight, that she’d zip around town with no trouble reading even the smallest signs.
But she’d bumped into a couple of cars in the last two years of driving (oops) and her sight was now beginning to fail a bit.
Still, she was very distressed to have to stop driving. As she talked it became clear there were different aspects to the distress. Some were practical, of course, but others were psychological and emotional. “It’s like the beginning of the end” she said. “I’ll lose my independence. I like hopping in the car to go out.”
At that point she was naturally focusing on the negative aspects of giving up driving. We talked around the issue and I tried to point out some positive aspects to not driving and some practical steps she could take. We discussed practical alternatives, and financing them, and the fact that she’d need to be a little more organised now than when she could use her Peugeot.
It seems to have worked because – ever a positive personality – she said she’d think over all we’d discussed and get back to me.
The next day she called and said: “It’s going to be all right!”
“Why?” I asked “Did you get your licence back?”
“Nope. But here’s how I look at it after we talked it all through…”
I’d advised her to check out taxi prices and get an account with a local taxi firm. As she could sell the Peugeot and would save on insurance, road tax and petrol she could probably take dozens of taxi journeys each year without spending any more than she’d spent on driving. “I can sell the car for thousands” she said. “I’ll put the money aside for transport. And I’ll be chauffered around! No need to find parking places or worry about accidents or parking fines.”
So that was her first tactic. The second had been to talk with her friends and boyfriend. No problem, everyone had said – we’ll just co-ordinate and go food shopping twice a week. And one or other of her friends or her boyfriend will pick her up for other outings too.
She’d also checked local bus timetables and if she wants to she can hop on a bus to town instead of taking the car.
Then she’d checked online shopping and deliveries. “I used to carry heavy stuff up the stairs” she told me. “Washing up liquid, washing powder, wine… Now I’ll get free deliveries from the supermarket.”
And lastly, she’d contacted her local council. They have a service where the elderly can book a ‘taxi’ for a fraction of the commercial price and go anywhere they want. That’s been a real boon. Several months on now, she has no complaints about having sold her Peugeot and quit driving.
The subsidised taxi service in particular has been great. She’s booked it for trips to the shops, stately homes, art exhibitions, and country pubs in Surrey to have lunch. And she goes with other elderly friends who, like my mother, didn’t previously know the service existed.
“It’s great” she said cheerily the other day. “The driver dropped us at a country pub for lunch and picked us up two and a half hours later. You know I like a glass of wine with lunch. If I’d been driving, I wouldn’t have had a drink but with the driver coming to get us we had a couple of glasses of nice white wine.“
“So I take it giving up driving has its benefits?” I asked.
“You bet” she said and laughed.