Losing ability to operate a vehicle a life-changing event

On June 1, 2011, Enid Arnell, 77, made the decision to stop driving.

She had developed macular degeneration, a medical condition that results in the loss of central vision — what you see right in front of you — because of damage to the retina.

This condition can make it difficult to recognize faces, but enough peripheral vision remains to continue other daily activities.

Arnell, who had been driving on her family farm since the age of 13, said, “you truly lose your independence,” when you can no longer drive.

She said sometimes she still thinks she can get up and drive to get something from the store, but then remembers she has to make other arrangements.

“It makes you stop and think. You remember you can no longer do it yourself.”

When she needs to get around, she relies on her sister, her friends and her husband.

Although her husband can drive her short distances, he, too, has had his challenges with driving.

Neil Arnell, 77, was required to take a medical test in order to renew his driver’s license at the age of 75.

When he went into the doctor’s office to take the medical, the results were unexpected.

“When the nurse told me I didn’t pass, I felt mad but also sad,” he said.Beryl Wills said driving is important to her because she needs to get around the city and complete simple tasks such as getting groceries.
Photo by: Deja Leonard

“I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know it would come this fast.”

With a combination of a cataract — the clouding of the lens — on one eye, and like his wife, macular degeneration on the other, he could not see well enough to pass the medical exam.

Fourteen months later, he had the surgery that had him seeing well enough to drive again.

He said it feels good to be driving again because he is responsible for driving both himself and his wife around.

He had freedom again and was not always depending on others, he said.

Likewise, Beryl Wills, 81, said she is thankful that she is still able to drive.

She chuckled when she recalled her first driving experience.

She was living in Whitehorse and her husband was in the army, so she had to learn to drive in order to get places while her husband was away.

Wills said driving is important to her because she needs to get around the city. Small tasks such as going to the grocery store for an item would become more of a hassle if she had to call a taxi or rely on someone else to get her there.

Another elderly driver, Tillie Schock, 86, said she feels as confident as ever driving in Calgary.

She said she realizes that having to quit driving is certainly a life-changing event.

Schock said an important issue with seniors and driving is not always the driving itself, but rather seniors being able to assess their own situations and realize when they are no longer able to drive.

Schock notes that a good driver is not defined by age.

She said a good driver is cautious and aware. They know where they are going and they maintain good habits throughout the years.

As a senior who is still driving, she said she couldn’t relate to the situation others are in, but that she can empathize with them.

“It’s the last phase of your life that you’re independent. And once you cannot drive, I would expect it would be traumatic,” she said.

Also see: Seniors worried cognitive tests will lead to loss of drivers’ licenses

Also see: My grandfather’s rules of the road

dleonard@cjournal.ca