Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Right vs. A Privlege

Some of you who are on my Facebook may have briefly glanced over my editorial on this article by the Toronto Star:

Driving with Dementia

And this is my lengthy commentary that I posted on Facebook:

I understand that seniors (and sometimes those younger) that are in the early stages of dementia may hate the fact that some of their freedom has been taken away due to the Ministry of Transportation taking away their driver's license. However, those drivers, like the one in the article, who failed the test not once but TWICE and still say they should have their license are selfish and putting not only themselves at risk by me, my children, my family and every other person on the road in jeopardy.

Drivers licenses should not be issued or taken away by age, but by ability. I know someone who drove until her 90s and was fine. I know others who should have lost their license long before they did. I do not support the taking away of licenses arbitrarily, but when you can no longer pass the road test and your age and dementia is part of the reason, you no longer should have your license.

As this article states, this generation of seniors who has grown up and older behind the wheel sees the drivers license as a right, not a privilege. We tell our teenagers that a drivers license is a privilege not a right. Guess what - it's the same at 86 as 16 - it's a privilege, not a right, and when you become a danger the rest of us have the right to be SAFELY on the roads.

A few years ago, upon moving back to the states, I had to go to the ministry office in a town about a half hour away to get a new Ontario drivers license. As I was waiting, which turned in to quite a lengthy wait due to what followed, I watched an elderly man fail the written portion of the test not once but FOUR times. On the fifth time, he filled it out at the counter with the MTO worker leading him through each question and give him the answers. I was horrified, but somehow not really surprised. All I could hope was that this man lived no where near me, nor would be driving anywhere near me. Now, maybe his written test skills have no impact on his driving. But this was a test of about 30-40 signs and ways to park, pass or turn. It really wasn't anything complicated. If he can't answer it on paper, how safe was he to the rest of the community.

The families of the individuals who are beginning new lives with dementia need to step up and take the keys. When your lives change from adult children of independent parents to adult caregiver children, your roll changes - it's time for you to step up and not just protect the community, but protect your parent.

As this problem becomes bigger and more widespread, uncommon incidents like the woman in Toronto that killed the mother and dragged her for quite a bit until she pulled into her driveway a couple of years ago run the risk of becoming more common. And then someone is going to finally ask - is the family who didn't take away the keys for fear of upsetting and/or angering the parent who is no longer capable of driving but thinks they are, are they legally responsible for not taking away the keys when they knew the parent was suffering from dementia? Can they be sued? Will they be risking their parents' retirement funds, their parents' home, their OWN home and income to lawsuit because they chose to take the easy way out and not address it?

Life is full of difficult decisions and answers we don't like. Sometimes, we have to chose the answer we don't like.

I do get it.  And honestly, if it were my parents, while it would be difficult, I would have no problems taking away the keys.  It's not just the safety of the other citizens on the road, but their own safety.  I imagine how I would feel both if the OPP came to my door to tell me that my son had been killed crossing the street (and had the right of way), only to find out later that the driver was suffering from any stage of dementia and the family knew and chose not to take away the keys for fear of angering or alienating Mum or Dad.  

But I also think to myself how I would feel if the OPP came to my door and told me that one of my parents had been in an accident and had injured or killed someone else's child, parent or spouse and I knew that they'd been diagnosed with dementia in some stage and that in reality they really shouldn't be behind the wheel.  I would feel horrendously guilty.  I could have prevented an accident like that by just sucking it up and doing what is right.  

there are some that shouldn't be driving even without dementia. There are some middle aged people I follow home from work some days that I think to myself "what the bleep are you doing with a driver's license!??" The senior who pulled out from the Presbyterian church in front of me this morning as I was going the speed limit (50km) here in Tiverton going a whopping 15km/hr - and I do mean pulled out as I nearly hit him - was one that I thought that. When I passed him further up when he turned into the little store (not Kwik Way, the other one) it was a very elderly gentleman. He completely ignored the stop sign, paid no attention to on coming cars and then impeded traffic. And yet he still have a drivers license. 

We have no problems nowadays taking away the keys or calling 911 when someone is driving under the influence, be it alcohol or something else. We need to get to a place in society now where we have no problems taking away the keys when our elderly relatives are just as unsafe. 

I agree with what this man's doctor did - he didn't take away the license himself. To do that may mean loosing the trust of a patient that, at his age, you really do need. He put it on to someone else who is more of a go-between between the doctor and the MTO. Maybe we should get the government (ha!) to redo things so that this company (DriveABLE, I think it was called?) is more widespread - have THEM be the bad guy, not the doctor. But somehow make it so that it's not a "suggestion" from the doctor but a legally binding thing that the patient has to do. have a checklist of sorts that everyone knows about that's government mandated (I know, I know, bad words to many people) that is across the board for everyone no matter their age - if there are warning signs, start going through this checklist. If you have too many checks, you automatically have your license suspended until you go for this test. But then the issue becomes getting the doctor to actually do it. And when our doctors are also getting older, the problem is then they may also be seeing themselves in a few years.

Driving is a privilege.  It is by no means a right.  When you become a danger to others - whether you see it or not - you need to lose that privilege, as hard as it may be to accept it and deal with it.  I do hope that, someday, if I end up in this situation, my sons will have the wherewithal to take my keys away.  I'd rather be, I say now with no signs of dementia, angry than a danger to those around me.

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