Keeping the wheel: For elderly, independence, pride at stake

Posted Jan. 02, 2009, at 8:47 p.m.
Glendon Rand, 80, of Orrington received his driver's license at age 24 and says he has been in a few car accidents but has never caused them. &quotMost seniors are good drivers," said Rand.  Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
Glendon Rand, 80, of Orrington received his driver's license at age 24 and says he has been in a few car accidents but has never caused them. "Most seniors are good drivers," said Rand. Buy Photo

Glendon Rand, 80, doesn’t plan to give up driving anytime soon.

“I’m going to drive as long as I can drive,” the Orrington resident said this week.

Staying active is a key to longevity, Rand said, and driving allows him to get to his job at Wal-Mart in Bangor, visit family in and out of state, and otherwise stay involved.

The question for many older drivers and their families is: How long is too long?

Rand, and his wife, Eleanor Rand, 76, are two of the 110,616 people in Maine who are age 70 or older and still get behind the wheel, according to 2007 Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles data.

The decision to give up driving or to take away an older person’s ability to drive is not an easy one, according to Valerie Sauda, director of community services for the Eastern Agency on Aging.

“It’s usually a very difficult conversation,” Sauda said. “It usually involves someone who has had a lot of near-miss accidents. The biggest message is safety. It is a difficult situation, and a difficult choice. It’s not something to be taken lightly.”

When the decision to take a person’s driver’s license is made, it “is a major life change for a lot of folks,” Sauda noted. “Many have been driving for 40 or 50 years and there is a lot of value in that. There is a lot of pride in that.”

Guilt is what Tom Russell, of Waterville and Florida, felt years ago when it became time to address the issue of his dad’s bad driving.

“He was not capable of driving and was having many accidents,” Russell said in an e-mail to the Bangor Daily News. “His age at the time, 70, was [affecting] his decision-making process. Very fortunately I convinced him to voluntarily give up his license. I was getting ready for a battle.”

Russell, at age 63, is now an older driver himself.

“Although I am noticing a difference in my driving skills, I am not ready to give up my license,” he said. “I have not had any accidents or close calls, knock [on] wood, but the thought is in my mind, and I know I am going to hate giving it up when the time comes and will probably fight it.”

He is not alone, Sauda said.

Without the ability to get around, many seniors feel isolated and can become depressed, which is why a plan to keep the person connected is so important, she said. The ability to get to the grocery store or doctor’s office, or to visit friends, is a key to staying happy and healthy, she said.

“It makes them less isolated and a little more in control,” Sauda said.

Because families don’t always live in the same town and rural Maine communities don’t always have public transportation, research into resources is required to keep people connected and prevent them from feeling trapped at home.

Dover-Foxcroft resident Judith dePonceau, who turns 70 on Jan. 5 and who just got her license renewed, says “time will tell” if she’s able to continue driving at age 75.

“When physical or mental disabilities make my driving dangerous, my kids will tell me so, and I will take their word for it, and we will search for other solutions,” she said.

Rand, who has diabetes and a heart problem, said doctors told him 15 months ago that he was going to die.

“They said, ‘The reason why you’re still living is because you’re still keeping going,’” he said.

Rand says he has been driving long enough to know his limitations.

“I try not to drive too much at night,” he said. “You don’t see as good nowadays as you used to. I believe in daytime driving after 80 anyway.” Older drivers “haven’t got the perception they had when they’re younger. You see accidents in the paper every day.”

He added: “I don’t go too fast. I go the speed limit.”

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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