COMMENTARY: Turning onto my street, I notice the “watch for children” signs in the middle of the road again. Sure enough, there are two five- or six-year-olds riding bikes in the street and two more toddlers in a neighbor’s front yard.
I’m happy to slow down. It’s not the inconvenience that concerns me. I bite my tongue, but I want so badly to tell the mothers of these kids that all the signs in the world won’t help. It’ll never be safe for their children to play in our street, because there’s a stubborn old man living next to me who’s put his desires and delusions ahead of their safety.
He’s a former lawyer and military man used to getting his own way. At first I thought he was just a harmless old man, possibly in the early stages of dementia. When we spoke to him, he never seemed to remember meeting us before, despite the fact that we’ve been over to his house more than once and he’s bought band fundraiser items from my son.
I consider it a miracle every time I see him in the front yard because his physical condition is so poor, he has to stop and lean against the corner of his house to rest when to walking over to ours. For a long time we rarely saw him outside. We took it for granted that he was house-bound. Then suddenly he began to appear at my front door, always asking to speak to my husband.
The first couple of times he came by, my husband was working, and it was too late to return the visit by the time he got home. Then the neighbor (we’ll call him Mr. D) became impatient, and decided to let me in on his plan. He confided that his son had financial problems and had “stolen” his car. He wanted my husband to help him rent or buy another car.
It soon became apparent that he didn’t want his wife to know about the proposed transaction. As I became increasingly suspicious of this scheme, he began calling my husband at work several times a day. My husband didn’t know what to do. Neither of us wanted to help Mr. D get access to a half ton killing machine. It was obvious he had no business behind the wheel.
The next time I drove up to our house, his wife was getting out of a white SUV, so I pulled her aside and explained what her husband was up to. She was furious! He’d lied about his son. No one had stolen his car. The family decided to take it away from him for his own safety, and the safety of others.
The lady driving the SUV had been hired by his kids to take him anywhere any time. She was literally at his beck and call. His wife had given up her own car, even though she was still competent to drive, to prevent him from taking it when she wasn’t looking.
Despite his family’s efforts Mr. D eventually succeeded in acquiring a new car. When I see him coming, I pull over and wait. He may still hit me, but at least my car affords me some protection. All those little kids are completely defenseless.
According to the CDC, 500 older adults are injured in a car accident every day, and 15 are killed. They expect these numbers to increase over the next few years, which makes sense when you consider that the baby boomers are aging. Health conditions, medications, visual impairments and other physical weaknesses can make it unsafe for many older people to drive, especially those 75 and over.
If you or a loved one seems to be having trouble behind the wheel, download the “Driving Decisions Workbook.” It will take you through the process of evaluating the driver’s performance.
MORE FROM THIS CONTRIBUTOR:
What “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Means for Gender Equality, Aging
Tips for Hiring a Caregiver for Your Loved One With Dementia
6 Ways to Help Out an Elderly Neighbor