Photo: Brandy Pouso, a physical therapist and certified driver rehabilition specialist at SMH

Aging in the Right Place: When's the Right Time to Hang Up the keys?

Posted on September 30, 2019 by Michael Moore Jr., Herald-Tribune Media Group

Preparing ahead and being honest with yourself and others can help ease the transition.

When you were a bright-eyed 16-year-old walking into the DMV to pick up your driver’s license, you probably didn’t think that someday you might have to give it up. Yet, down the road, it’s a reality many of us are likely to encounter as we age.

Aging can take its toll on motor skills, cognitive function, and vision, all of which are crucial components when it comes to safely navigating the roads. But we often link driving to a sense of independence, and the prospect of losing that freedom can be scary to contemplate.

Balancing safety with independence is one of the most difficult tasks we face as we age. Few scenarios demonstrate this more fiercely than a simple question: “When should we hang up the keys?”

Planning for your retirement should include planning for your “driving retirement,” according to experts. But there’s no single solution when it comes to driving, and there is no “magic age limit.”

“I’ve met with drivers in their 60s who had no business driving out to get the mail, and I’ve met drivers in their 90s who I would, quite frankly, drive with anywhere,” said Matt Gurwell, CEO and founder of Keeping Us Safe, a program that seeks to provide solutions for older drivers.

“There’s certainly some correlation with aging and some decline in driving ability, but it’s different for everyone. There really isn’t any cutoff age.”

Gurwell is a retired Ohio state trooper who founded Keeping Us Safe after seeing what he calls “a void in the system across the country when it comes to what we do with older drivers with diminished driving skills.”

Again, Gurwell is quick to point out that there is no age limit to driving and that the keyword there is “diminished.”

Maybe you are still a perfect driver. Maybe you’re not. But you won’t know unless you’re being honest with yourself and your family, and seeking help when it’s needed. One way to do that is by taking the driving self-assessments offered by Keeping Us Safe throughout the country or by finding similar services provided by Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Driver Evaluation and Rehabilitation program.

It’s important to prepare for these uncomfortable scenarios early because suddenly finding yourself in a position where you can no longer drive can be jarring.

“One minute you’re able to be out driving yourself, and then the next minute you’re reliant on someone else. Many times it can happen that fast,” said Melissa Guido of AllyRides Wheelchair Transportation Services.

The transition isn’t easy and can lead to depression and isolation, but there are transportation resources available in the community, such as ITNSunCoast, SCAT Plus, or private specialty companies like AllyRides mentioned above.

Giving up driving is difficult, but like so many challenges, preparation and support can make that transition easier.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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