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Health & Wellness – The Silver Linings of Aging

Health & Wellness – The Silver Linings of Aging 1920 1080 Hannan Center

Shared by Vincent Tilford – CEO/President Hannan Center, Midtown Detroit

Growing old is like a surprise party you knew was coming but still were not quite prepared for. When we are young, we poke fun at aging, playfully tossing around terms like “fossil” and “past your prime” at anyone over the age of 30. Fast forward a few decades, and suddenly, we have more hair in the comb than on our heads. Nine p.m. becomes the new midnight (8:00 pm for me), and our bodies now provide their own soundtrack of creaks and groans every time we stand. But aging is not just about embracing self-deprecating humor, I believe it’s an art form, a skill we can refine with a few simple tricks that don’t require us to be “super seniors” with Pepsodent smiles and bottomless wallets to enjoy anything that life has to offer.

Let us start with the timeless adage, “Use it or lose it.” In the bloom of youth, a gym membership is a ticket to flexing in front of mirrors while casually lifting weights. As the years add up, it is less about the flex and more about being able to tie your shoes without sounding like a grunting sow.

Bending over to touch your toes turns from a simple stretch, into an episode of “Twister: Solo Edition.” Yoga classes transform from a cool-down exercise to an essential routine, ensuring you can don your socks without calling for backup. It is not about bulking up anymore but ensuring you can walk up a set of stairs without drafting a will halfway.

As we age, who said exercise needs to be a chore? We can easily find ways to integrate more movement into daily life. Take the stairs instead of the elevator – consider it your personal Everest. Park your car at the far end of the lot; those extra steps count, even when it feels like a trek across the Sahara. Get outdoors – walk, hike, or garden. It is not just about admiring nature; it is about ensuring you can still navigate through it all without needing a GPS or a personal sherpa. The goal is to aim for being just out of breath, not so much that you feel in need of a lung transplant.

Now, let us talk about social gymnastics. Being socially active is like kale for your brain, minus the bitter aftertaste. Chatting with friends, arguing with family, and engaging with community members are not just fun pastimes; they are essential for mental fitness. These interactions are crucial in dealing with the stresses of aging, from health issues to losing loved ones. And being social can help slow down the brain’s version of rust – – –
cognitive decline. Every discussion is a chance to oil the cogs in your mind, keeping
them running smoothly. So, dive into conversations, join clubs, or engage in healthy
gossip (ok, maybe nix the gossip). Your older brain will thank you!

A final thought, one of the best things we can do for our aging bodies is to feed our minds with positive thoughts on becoming older. Dr. Becca Levy, in her insightful book “Breaking the Age Code,” highlights the power of positive thinking in aging. She found those harboring positive beliefs about growing old extend their life expectancy by a whopping 7.5 years. That is right! Being optimistic about aging does not just make you a pleasant person to be around; it is practically a life extender. Levy’s research is atestament to the mind-body connection, showing how our attitudes towards aging can physically shape our health. Remember, thinking young is not about denial; it is about defiance!

Aging with grace is not about breaking the laws of biology. It is about embracing them with a wink and a nod. It is acknowledging that while you may not be the spring chicken you once were, you are now a seasoned bird with more stories to tell. It is about finding humor in the new realities, like marveling at the newfound ability to predict the weather with your knee pain or celebrating the senior discounts that feel like society’s payback for making it this far.

In essence, aging well is a blend of physical activity, social engagement, and a healthy dollop of positive thinking. It is about moving enough to keep the joints oiled, socializing often to keep the brain sharp, and plenty of laughter to keep the heart light. If life is a journey, then aging is just taking the scenic route – slower, yes, but with so much more to admire. So, as we march (or sometimes hobble) into our golden years, let us do it with a smile on our faces, a spring in our step (or at least a determined shuffle), and an unwavering belief that the best is yet to come.

Ageism vs Dignity

Ageism vs Dignity 1920 1080 Hannan Center

Shared by Vincent Tilford – CEO/President Hannan Center, Midtown Detroit

Years ago, I participated in a supervisor training program. At the start of one session, the course instructor pulled a brand new $100 bill from her wallet and asked who wanted the money. Everyone raised their hand. But what she did next surprised us! She let the Benjamin fall to the floor then stepped on it, twisting her foot back and forth as if snuffing out a cigarette. After picking it up, the facilitator wadded the paper bill in a tight fist before smoothing it out to reveal a tear.

“How many of you still want this $100 bill?” she asked. Again, every hand shot up. She told us to keep our hands raised.

“What if I poured mud on it? Lower your hand if you’ve changed your mind.” No one did.

She had made her point – the intrinsic value of the $100 bill hadn’t changed. It is the same whether it is brand new, or dog-eared and dirty. And there was not a question in anyone’s mind about the money’s worth.

The demonstration was an apt metaphor for what happens to us as we age. Over the years, we accumulate experiences others value. We become that crisp $100 bill! But when we have been in circulation for a few decades, we may not look brand new anymore. Our experiences, skills, and talents lie hidden beneath a mature, well-worn exterior, which is what most people see first. We need to look no further than the cruel comments like “boomer remover” that worked their way into the pandemic narrative, giving people greater permission to devalue the worth of our older population. And sadly, even those in our senior years accept this devaluation as truth.

At its core, dignity is the recognition of the intrinsic worth of every individual. It is about a fundamental belief that all humans possess an unalienable value regardless of their circumstances. Dignity also encompasses concepts of autonomy —the right to make choices and control one’s life and body— and equality, the notion that all human beings are equal regarding their fundamental worth and rights, regardless of their differences. We all need this validation, particularly as we enter our senior years, when we can feel unheard, unseen, invisible and devalued.

William Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, illustrated these themes of dignity, empathy, and the universal nature of human experience through the character, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender.

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

The whole passage is a poignant expression we all are members of the human race, emphasizing that despite cultural, religious, or racial differences, all people share the same essential human qualities and vulnerabilities.

Our dignity acts as our anchor. It is the inner compass that guides our actions, influences self-esteem, and molds our identity. The respect we accord ourselves and demand from others stems from this inherent dignity. Shylock wanted to be seen, heard, and judged not for his religion, but through the lens of our common bond of humanity.

In theory, to honor the dignity of our brothers and sisters on this planet is universally understood. It connects diverse peoples, transcends culture, race, age, and economic differences. In a sense, dignity should provide fertile ground for mutual understanding and respect to take root and thrive. But too often, we see differences first, mainly when we interact with those we do not know or who represent ideas we fear. So, taking the lazy shortcut, we use stereotypes as filters rather than engaging in the necessary work to know and understand the person beneath the facade that invokes our bias.

Recognizing our shared humanity is not about being “woke.” Respecting the dignity of individuals has been around since the beginning of time. Take the Old Testament story of Noah.

In the story, Noah becomes drunk and lies uncovered in his tent. Ham, one of his sons, sees him naked and tells his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Instead of disrespecting their father, Shem and Japheth take a garment and walk backward into the tent to cover Noah carefully avoiding seeing him. When Noah awakens and learns what Ham did, he curses Ham’s son Canaan, and blesses Shem and Japheth for their deference and decency.

Respecting Noah, and preserving the dignity of this older person, mattered to two of his sons despite Noah having created the humiliating situation. This story resonates with most of us at some level. However sometimes preserving our dignity, and honoring our shared humanity, does not matter to those we trust with our care or the care of our loved ones.

Recently, a colleague shared with me a tragic tale about her friend, Linda. Linda had been in a nursing facility and suffered from diabetes. High blood sugar levels can lead to poor blood circulation. Reduced blood flow can impair skin healing and reduce its ability to fight infections. This means cuts, sores, or injuries on the skin may take longer to heal and are more susceptible to infection.

Linda developed a decubitus ulcer, also known as a bed sore. They occur when the skin and underlying tissues are pressed against a bone and an external surface (like a bed or a wheelchair) for a prolonged period. The pressure reduces circulation to the area, and without adequate blood flow, the skin and nearby tissues deprived of oxygen and nutrients leads to tissue damage and sometimes death. In the friend’s case, her caregivers left her in the same position for so long that an ulcer formed, creating a hole the size of a grapefruit revealing Linda’s hip bone. Had Linda’s caregivers just rotatedher and shifted her regularly to alleviate the constant pressure, this severe ulceration could have been avoided. But they did not. The very people entrusted to care for her care did not think she mattered enough to provide the proper assistance, and unfortunately Linda did not survive.

In this situation why didn’t the people in charge of Linda’s care show the proper concern and attention? Was it because she was sickly and old? Possibly because she was black? Or was it because she was a woman? Perhaps reading this you wonder, “Why make this about age, race, and gender? Maybe the care workers were incompetent, lazy, or short-staffed.”

We may never know why this institution and its personnel caused this tragedy. But would those who oversaw Linda’s care do things differently if she had been their mother, sister, or someone they loved who had the same health issues? Had they used a different lens, one that knew Linda as a mother of three children, a grandmother to seven children, and a church volunteer who often donated her time and money to help those less fortunate than she, would they have done more? Had Linda’s caregivers embraced their shared humanity, and treated her with the dignity she deserved, she may still be alive.

Understanding and recognizing dignity plays a pivotal role in ethics. It is the foundation upon which many human rights principles are built. The concept that every person deserves fair treatment, freedom, and opportunities for fulfillment is rooted in the individual’s inherent dignity. But too often, this aspirational goal stays mired in theory, never embedding itself into our DNA so it becomes a reflex rather than an afterthought. The result is “-isms” like racism, sexism, and ageism are perpetuated.

Ageism is especially pernicious because we do not perceive the harm that an ageist belief system has on all of us, but its effects are nonetheless real. Research shows people who view aging positively have a life expectancy of seven to eight years longer than those who hold negative views. So, it is in our best interest to fight ageism.

To acknowledge the worth of every individual, especially our seniors who have contributed a lifetime of experiences and wisdom, is not just a moral obligation it means to enrich our communities and, by extension, our own lives. As we champion dignity and fight against ageism, and other biases, we uplift others and ourselves while fostering a world where every life stage is valued. We create a future where the full potential of our shared humanity is honored and realized, and every individual is seen for their true worth.

On a Positive Note

On a Positive Note 1920 1080 Hannan Center

By Virgil Taylor

My name is Virgil Taylor, today I’m launching my new segment for the Hannan Center Age Out Loud blog called On a Positive Note. I guess I should probably share a little about myself, and how this endeavor came to be. I’m a native Detroiter, born and raised in the Motor City, I don’t think it’s all that necessary to say exactly when I was born. Suffice it to say that I grew up in the Motown era amidst all the social change of the revolutionary 1960s. During my childhood America was experiencing a lot of social change, people of color were not only expressing their discontent but demanding civil rights. I remember images of Bull Conner and his police force using fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful Black protestors in the South. I was too young to participate, but I watched the march on Washington, and Dr. King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech at the mall in Washington, D.C. on August 28th, 1963. I grew up with the changing music of the 1960s and the radical change in everything from clothes styles and hairdos to women’s rights and war protests. Of course, I was just another impressionable kid, but the experiences of my youth certainly provided me with lots of insights, ideas, and opinions that would influence how I’d navigate life… here all these years later, I have a lot to say.

For the past few years, I’ve been compelled to regularly share positive thoughts and ideas on my social media platforms. Some people that have known me over the years have I’m sure been curious about this ‘positive stuff’ coming from me. Not that I haven’t always been a ‘fun loving’ kinda guy… let’s just say that ‘loving’ as in compassion wasn’t at the top of my agenda. So what changed, the honest answer… I really don’t know. There are a host of things I can possibly point to. Maybe it was all the ugliness I was seeing in the media, or maybe it was how politics seemed to be affecting people in recent years. I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I found myself doing more reading and researching. Then for some reason, I was compelled to share positive stuff more and more. A funny thing happened as I continued along this path. I started noticing how people were reacting to me. I’ve had people contact me on more than a few occasions to say how much something I shared helped them. An unexpected benefit from the kind comments was that I started feeling better about myself. Mind you, I’ve always been rather fond of ‘me’, but this feels different, and I’m enjoying the feeling. One of the remarkable things about the advent of social media is that it’s a platform that is easily used by vast numbers of people. I never sat out to reach the masses, I just wanted to share my thoughts, and I realized that sharing positive thoughts helped a lot of people. Unbeknownst to me, I was attracting more attention than I realized.

In the early spring of this year, I received a message on Facebook from a friend (one of those friends I didn’t actually know). Richard Reeves from the Hannan Center contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in meeting to discuss some ideas he had. I had no idea what he wanted to discuss, but he seemed like a decent guy, and we had lots of mutual friends. The fact that Richard was an artist meant a lot to me, and I’d actually seen him at local art events, though we’d never met… We were both busy, so we agreed to meet sometime later in the spring. Well, turns out that Richard had been following me and liked some of the stuff I shared on Facebook. When we met he wanted to know if I’d be interested in working with the Hannan Center, doing some writing, and maybe working on some other programming ideas. Needless to say, I was ecstatic, I’d long planned to do a blog, maybe a podcast and I’m always interested in opportunities to get more exposure…. Well, my new blog courtesy of the Hannan Center (thanks to my friend Richard Reeves) is now a reality. For everyone reading this, it goes to show that you never know who’s watching you. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and I’m hoping some others might be inspired to share things they love, who knows who’ll be inspired/influenced by what you share?

For the record, I want it known that my platform is A-political, it’s not gender-based, race-based, or grounded in any specific philosophy or ideology. I’m not a religious person, I was raised in the Christian tradition. I love and cherish my upbringing, but there’s so much that I want to explore. Not knocking anyone else, but religious ideology is a tad too limiting for me. I’m sharing that info, so folks understand my perspective as I move forward in the coming weeks. My platform is secular, I’ll address matters of a spiritual nature, but not from the perspective of any religious ideology or doctrine. I am not claiming any special status, I didn’t have an epiphany or anything like that. I think my love of positivity was born of necessity. Like anyone else, I want to be at peace. I want to feel good and to be fulfilled. One day I realized that being at peace and feeling good is an inside job. I have to be intentional about being happy. I believe that positivity is a state of mind. I think it’s important to realize that a positive state of mind isn’t experienced in the same way by any two people. That said, it occurs to me that no one really wants to be angry or agitated all of the time… does it happen, of course, it does. We all experience feelings we could do without. What I’ve realized though is that feelings are temporary. Realizing this, I’m reminded of something that my mom used to say to me when I wasn’t feeling my best. Mom’s gentle admonition still resonates with me whenever I’m feeling poorly, she’d say to me, “Let’s not focus on how we’re feeling, but rather ask yourself, how are you thinking?” My mom’s words would always lift me up, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I like to rely on that advice a lot these days. When I’m feeling lousy, or moody, or when I’m anxious or annoyed… Mom’s words pop into my head, “How are you thinking?” On a positive note, my thinking can always be adjusted to a more positive state. It ain’t always easy, but it can always be done, don’t believe me, try it… Peace, love, and blessings y’all…

Purpose – A Prescription for Long Life: Part 2

Purpose – A Prescription for Long Life: Part 2 1920 1080 Hannan Center

It’s official! You’re retiring and are ready to sit back and kick your feet up. You deserve it, but what do you do after you catch up on your sleep? Or, maybe you’ve already retired, and you’re seeking new hobbies and activities besides watching Judge Judy, who has started making guest appearances in your dreams. Retirement is meant to be a period when individuals can relish the rewards of their hard work; however, some seniors may also spend this time searching for a renewed sense of direction and purpose in life. If you fall in this latter category, don’t worry, it’s never too late to find your passion and start living your best life

Just look at these famous folks who found their calling later in life. Grandma Moses, bless her heart, started painting at the ripe old age of 78. Colonel Sanders, the king of fried chicken, didn’t begin his finger-lickin’ good empire until he was 62. And Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of Little House on the Prairie, didn’t publish her first book until she was 65 and seven more after that (to the chagrin of all of my fellow boomers who had to read them in elementary school)! Better late than never, am I right?

If you’re looking for your purpose in life, take a moment to reflect on what brings you joy. And don’t be afraid to try new things, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Here’s a quick list of some affordable activities that you might consider:

  1. Walking or hiking – This is a great way to stay active, explore the outdoors, or hang out with friends.
  2. Start a book or podcast discussion – Are you into true crime drama or mysteries? Start a book club or discussion with like-minded folks.
  3. Volunteer work – Hannan offers many volunteer opportunities both at Hannan and with our community partners
  4. Game night (or afternoon) – Are dominoes or backgammon your thing? Why not start a club, challenge your mind, and meet new people?
  5. Movie night – another great opportunity for stimulating discussion
  6. Photography – this is a great way to capture memories. With so many phones having great cameras, now is a terrific time to explore the world around you.
  7. Yoga or other fitness classes – there are many programs tailored for seniors and our changing bodies
  8. Writing – not only is getting your thoughts onto paper therapeutic, but maybe you have a great story inside you waiting to be told.
  9. Back to school – places like metro Detroit’s community colleges offer discounted classes to seniors. Another opportunity to keep your mind engaged and meet new people
  10. Paint, sculpt, and perform art – Hannan Center offers various arts programming, workshops, and discussions that might awaken an unknown passion.

Grandma Moses started painting because her arthritis was so bad that she had to give up embroidery. You never know what might spark a new passion or lead you down a fulfilling path.

Need some inspiration? Look to others who have found their purpose later in life. Read their stories, learn from their experiences, and then go out and make your mark on the world. And remember, it’s never too late to change and pursue your dreams. So, embrace change, take a leap of faith, and see where life takes you.

Ultimately, finding your purpose later in life is a journey worth taking. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. And who knows, you might discover your true calling and become the next Grandma Moses, Colonel Sanders, or Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Purpose – A Prescription for Long Life

Purpose – A Prescription for Long Life 1920 1080 Hannan Center

As we get older, aging can be a tough pill to swallow, particularly if we’re already taking other meds.  Suddenly, you begin wondering if you’ve made any real impact on the world.  Did you leave your mark, or are you just a blip on the radar of history?  And if you made an impact, can you continue contributing as you age?  These are the big questions that keep us up at night (along with did I remember to take all my pills), but fear not, my fellow wrinkly friends, for there is hope!

Enter the Blue Zones, areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.  If we look closer at these magical zones, we’ll notice a common theme: purpose.  Yes, purpose!  In Okinawa, Japan, the concept of ikigai, or “reason for being,” is deeply ingrained in the culture.  As a result, many Okinawans have a clear sense of purpose, whether tending to their gardens or caring for their grandchildren.  In Nicoya, Costa Rica, older people stay active by participating in their communities and helping to maintain local traditions.  And in Loma Linda, California, the Adventist community has a strong sense of mission and service, which gives them a sense of purpose even in their later years.

In his book “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande also discusses the importance of purpose in older age.  He tells the story of a nursing home that decided to bring in animals for the residents to care for.  The animals gave the residents a sense of purpose and responsibility, and they found that they were happier and more engaged.  Gawande also discusses the importance of allowing older people to continue to make meaningful contributions to society, whether it’s through volunteering, mentoring, or participating in civic activities.

My mother found purpose when she moved in with my wife and me over twenty years ago to help care for our firstborn.  At 71 years old, she recognized that she had a life’s worth of experience in raising and caring for children.  As a result, she has been our children’s only caregiver besides us, relieving our worries about finding adequate childcare.  Of course, living with your mother and your wife under the same roof presents other challenges, but you’ll need to read about those in my anonymous blog on the dark web.

But having a sense of purpose in older age can have many benefits.  It can give older people a reason to get up in the morning, stay engaged with the world around them, and keep learning and growing.  It can also improve physical health, as people with a sense of purpose are more likely to exercise, eat well, and care for themselves.

Of course, finding purpose in older age is not always easy.  It can be challenging to let go of past roles and identities and discover new ones.  It can also be challenging to find opportunities for meaningful engagement.  However, many resources are available for older people looking to find purpose in their later years.  Volunteer organizations, senior centers, and community groups are all great places to start.  For instance, Hannan Center seeks volunteers to help with our programs and support our partner organizations.

So, my fellow seniors, let’s embrace our aging selves and find our purpose.  Whether through community service, gardening, or checking in with someone to see if they took all of their meds, we can all make a difference in our own way.  Having a purpose, a reason to rise every morning, improves our quality of life.  And who knows, maybe we’ll all live to be 100 and become the next Blue Zone ourselves!

Broke and Bald? No Problem: Money-Saving Tips for Seniors

Broke and Bald? No Problem: Money-Saving Tips for Seniors 1920 1080 Hannan Center

As we age, we all want to save money wherever we can, especially on a fixed income. But, with the price of everything rising almost as fast as my hairline is receding, I know I don’t want to be broke AND bald. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of some financial hacks that senior citizens can use to make their money go further. So let’s dive in.

Check your pockets before doing laundry: You’d be surprised how much money you can save by not washing coins or dollar bills that you’ve left in your pockets. I once found $10 in a jacket before dropping it off at the cleaners.

Become a coupon connoisseur: A retail analytics firm found that consumers who use coupons save an average of $30 per week or $1,560 annually. That’s serious cheddar! So join coupon clubs, and sign up for loyalty programs at your favorite stores. Check out these sites for coupons for various products and services: coupons.com, retailmenot.com, couponcause.com and SeniorDiscounts.com. Of course, let’s not forget that AARP offers a wide range of discounts to seniors.

Senior specials: Some companies offer discounts to people who are as young as 55 years old. Think Verizon, Walgreens, and Kohl’s. And the older you are, the number of specials grows! Also, being a veteran or being married to one may make you eligible for other savings.

Commit to a “Don’t Spend Month”: The goal is to save money, reduce debt, or break the habit of unnecessary spending. During a “Don’t Spend Month,” people may try to find free or low-cost alternatives to their usual activities and necessities, such as cooking meals at home instead of eating out.

Unplug everything: Did you know that many appliances and electronics use energy even when turned off? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household’s energy bill in 2020 was $1,474.

Talking Art & Survival with Richard Phillips and Vincent Tilford

Talking Art & Survival with Richard Phillips and Vincent Tilford 1920 1080 Hannan Center

Richard Phillips was a Detroit high-school dropout who was sent to prison at age 26 for a murder he did not commit. No galleries, no art fairs, only fellow inmates would see the art of America’s longest-serving inmate to win exoneration after 45 years in prison. With few choices in prison, Richard became an avid reader, earned a GED and an Associate’s Degree in Business, graduating with honors. He practiced his drawing, sold handmade greeting cards to inmates to buy supplies and taught himself to paint with watercolors. Most leave prison with nothing. A pen pal kept Richard’s paintings, which he retrieved when he was freed in 2017. A Ferndale gallery exhibited his work. CBS Sunday Morning covered it. Art lovers loved it! Many see Richard’s life as a testament to the healing art of art itself. Richard Phillips says his art kept him sane.

Listen as Richard Phillips sits down with Vincent Tilford, President and CEO of the Hannan Center, as they discuss art, life, and purpose.

Driving While Old

Driving While Old 1920 1080 Hannan Center

We all swim against time and the riptides of our genetics, lifestyle, and environment.  Any one of these variables, and indeed any combination, can drag us out to sea.  It can be a struggle, particularly when it comes to the activities we engage in that help maintain our independence.  However, no matter how old we become, we want to believe that we have some years to go before we lose our ability to perform the activities that matter to us.  Time is on our side until it isn’t.  But, then, we must face that our bodies and minds aren’t as robust and resilient as they once were as we strive to perform the activities that add value to our lives.

I remember when I gave up martial arts training.  The dojo had become my tribe, my “Cheers,” a place where everyone knew my name.  Training improved my discipline and helped me stay physically and mentally sharp.  I saw myself as a martial artist.  But eventually, the stubborn aches and pains that never quite healed, and the perpetual stiffness that lingered after the previous day’s training, ultimately tipped the scales against any sense of accomplishment I derived from my practice.  With reluctance, I hung up my gi.

“Well, duh!” I can hear you saying.  “This first-world problem should be a no-brainer for someone entering their sixties.” However, sometimes the activities we need to reconsider are less obvious yet are nevertheless essential to our identity and sense of independence.  Driving is one of those activities.

Since our high school days, driving has been synonymous with freedom and independence.  It grants us the autonomy to come and go without relying on others for transportation.  But we also assume an enormous responsibility for our selves and especially others when we’re behind the wheel.  Imagine the damage we can cause if we lose control of a two-ton vehicle.  Yet we view driving as an inalienable right when in reality, it’s a privilege that our government regulates to mitigate the potential harm we might cause to ourselves, property, and others.  But many of us cannot imagine a future when we might have to relinquish this privilege.

For my 95-year-old mom, driving has been a part of her life for many decades.  In her 70s and 80s, she ran errands for herself and picked up and dropped off our children at their nursery, elementary, and middle schools.  In addition, she made it possible for our boys to attend extracurricular activities when my wife and I couldn’t get home in time.

Having lived in the Buckeye State for many years, my mother drove from Detroit to Cleveland twice a year to visit my sister.  She was 90 years old when she made her last trip there.  Some friends were shocked when I shared that my mother had driven herself to Ohio.

“You still let her drive?” they asked in tones dripping with disapproval.  To them, it was inconceivable and foolish to allow someone of her years to get behind the wheel and drive for three hours alone.

Their comment had me second-guessing myself.  My mother had been in only one accident in the last 25 years and that was because the other driver had run a red light.  Still, maybe I shouldn’t let her drive long distances anymore, but short trips around our community might be okay, right?  Then again, who was I to tell my mother, a grown woman with all of her faculties intact, that I was going to take away her keys?  Was it because of her age?

People often refer to my mom as “spry,” a term for energetic elders who don’t fit the stereotype of how a ninety-something-year-old should act.  My mother loves to debate politics and attend concerts.  She enjoys reading and watching news pundits on TV.  My mom even honed her air hockey skills so that she could best my youngest son.  So, I’ve never thought of her as old in a “vulnerable” sense, at least not until recently when the first shoe dropped.  It was nighttime, and I was out of town when I got a call from my wife.

“I hope you’re sitting down.  Your mom hasn’t come home.” She’d gotten turned around on one of the highways and headed north instead of south.  My mother always planned her errands to begin and end during the daylight hours because she didn’t see well enough to drive at night.  We worried that the worse had happened.  Wherever she was, my mother couldn’t return home in the dark, even if she knew the way.  Fortunately, she had a fully charged flip phone.  She stopped at a convenience store and called.  A kind stranger also helped, and between the three of them, they figured out that my mother was an hour from where we lived so my wife could pick her up.

Getting disoriented can happen to anyone, I told myself.  I’ve gotten lost before, but the added variable of my mom’s advanced age had me wondering.  Memories of my father’s battle with dementia surfaced.  He used to forget to turn off the oven’s gas burners.  He also got lost for several hours, not returning until midnight when a good Samaritan helped him find his way home.  Dementia eventually killed dad.

Perhaps this is the beginning of the…I thought but stopped myself.  Articulating the last word might make it prophetic.

Instead, I searched for signs of decline.  How was Mom’s gait?  Was she sleeping longer than usual?  How was her speech?  Was she easily confused or more forgetful than usual?  I worried my lack of vigilance might lead to something more disastrous than getting lost.

I suggested allowing my wife or me to run her errands or drive her wherever she might need to go.  My mom greeted my advice with an emphatic “hmph” and silence.

A debate waged warred inside of me.  I wanted to honor and respect my mother’s self-agency, but what if she harmed herself or others while driving?  Was I overreacting?  I needed evidence or data that showed she shouldn’t drive anymore.  But I didn’t have that, so I continued to observe.

Days turned into weeks, and I could discern no meaningful changes.  She appeared fine, and I relaxed a bit (or stuck my head in the sand, depending on one’s views of these things).  My mother continued to drive, and she didn’t get lost.  Maybe time was still on her side, but then, the second shoe dropped.

My mom prides herself on never complaining about her ailments.  So when she said that she sometimes got dizzy and had difficulty catching her breath, mine stuck in my throat.  We went to the hospital.  After more than 16 hours in the emergency room and thousands of dollars worth of tests and scans, they admitted her.

The medical team diagnosed atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.  Either one could cause the other, but the doctors weren’t sure which condition occurred first.  With her heart working overtime, she was out of breath, sometimes close to fainting.  Her condition might also be the cause of her confusion when she got lost.

The medical team stabilized my mother and discharged her with instructions for multiple prescriptions and supplements she’d need to take for the rest of her life.  She didn’t like the sound of that, being told what she would have to do for her remaining years.  But before we left, she asked the doctor one last question.  Could she continue driving?

The doctor’s eyes widened before looking at me.  “Say ‘no,’ Doc!” I screamed in my head wishing she could read my mind.  I was worried that new issues might surface even with her new meds.  But the doctor left the decision up to my mom.

“If you feel okay and aren’t dizzy, I don’t see any reason at this time to say that you shouldn’t.” My mom sat back in the hospital bed with her cat-who-ate-the-canary smile.  Her independence had been reaffirmed.

While her age should not be the issue, her mental and physical health changes can be.  When I turned 40, my night vision changed.  No one told me to stop driving because I’d turned 40, but I did begin wearing prescription glasses.  Our physical and brain health often worsens over time, even with treatment.  For example, my father, who was in his 70s when he was diagnosed, had clear cognitive decline, making him an unsafe driver and a danger to others.  We were fortunate with him because he never caused an accident or hurt anyone.  In my mom’s case, her new prescriptions would reduce the fluid around her organs and make it easier for her heart to pump oxygenated blood to her brain.  In other words, her new meds would help control her dizziness and confusion.  Knowing this helped me understand the doctor’s guidance, but I still had my reservations.

As an adult child of an older parent who drives, your familial genes incline you to protect your mother or father from harm whether they ask for your help or not.  Our easy acceptance of ageism often justifies taking an aged parent’s car keys.  Better safe than sorry.  If I were working in a different field, I’m sure that I would make that same call despite the doctor’s guidance.  But because I work with older people, I want something different for my mom — to live with her dignity and self-agency intact.

Losing driving privileges is a complex and emotional experience for anyone, regardless their age.  It impacts our independence and self-esteem when we must rely on others to do things for us.  So it is vital to approach the situation with sensitivity and empathy, to have honest and open discussions, and to talk about the risks.  We should also seek out alternatives and brainstorm options with our elders that preserve their independence while keeping them safe.

The waves of time pummel us all.  When we’re young, we feel like we can swim forever.  But time never tires or gives you a break.  Somedays, you can only tread water just enough to keep your head above its surface.  During these moments, adult children of older parents must be prepared to help mom or dad stay afloat.  In the end, they will appreciate our support.  We must remain vigilant, be ready to help when needed, and never let them swim alone.