At what age do we no longer want to be independent?
I wholeheartedly believe the answer is, never. We never wish to give up our independence, even if it’s in our best interests to do so. From as early as adolescence we begin to have a much stronger desire to make our own choices and decisions. We all enjoy deciding what we will do, when we will do it, where we will do it, and whom we will do it with. If our freedom or independence is challenged, we may become defensive and even defiant in order to protect it. For most of us, our independence defines us as individuals and gives us self respect.
Now imagine yourself being 87 years old. You have been independent for over three quarters of a century, and suddenly a doctor tells you: “You can’t drive anymore”. This recently happened to my grandmother, who is now 87 and has lived alone for several years. She called me on the phone crying and hysterical because a doctor just told her it was no longer safe for her to drive following a recent hospital stay. Instead of sympathizing with her shock and tremendous loss of independence at that moment, I found myself wondering if that was really true. “Is she really not fit to drive anymore?” I thought, and “Can a doctor simply take someone’s license away?” Side note: Apparently, in the state of California the answer to that last question is, no, a doctor cannot personally revoke a driver’s license. However, a doctor can send a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles stating their recommendation and diagnosis of the patient. As we understand it, the DMV then notifies the individual that they need to take a reexamination test to determine their ability to drive. More information on the California DMV’s Reexamination Process can be found here.
A huge favor
To be honest, the doctor did me a huge favor telling my grandmother she was losing a part of the independence she had enjoyed for decades. At this point in her life, I being only the grandson, could not have convinced her of this with any amount of logic, reasoning, or even arguing. It needed to come from an authority figure and be communicated in no uncertain terms. I am immeasurably thankful for that.
As it turns out, the doctor never followed up with the DMV. That can happen, even though the state requires doctors to notify DMV of any individuals who may be high risk for medical reasons. That means there was no request from the DMV for reexamination and no official decision to take her license away. However, even though my grandmother could technically still drive in the legal sense, I viewed this as an opportunity to make the needed adjustments now before she became a real danger to herself or others on the road. My worst nightmare was that her license would be revoked because of hitting another car, or even worse, a pedestrian.
So, what now?
Now this scenario presents a number of new questions and concerns: Would she continue to live in her own home? Will she continue to live alone? What adjustments would need to be made in her habits in order for her to remain independent and safe? For example, how will she get to the store? How will she attend her congregation meetings? Those were practical questions I needed to think about. At the same time, I realized these adjustments would involve a degree of encroaching on her independence – something I had never done before, and frankly had not given much thought to. I needed to think about how we would balance her care with her independence. That is what we are continually learning during this new life adjustment: balance. And balance is key in helping our loved ones retain their dignity while learning to let go of a measure of independence.