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For many people, the decision to stop driving is not one they make. It's made for them. And if that moment is not planned for, it can have a dramatic effect on the quality of life. It's become a growing issue as the number of drivers 65 and older rises rapidly. John Daley from Colorado Public Radio reports on an effort to get seniors to prepare for life after driving.
JOHN DALEY, BYLINE: Harriet Kelly has one word to describe the day she stopped driving four years ago - miserable.
HARRIET KELLY: It's no fun when you give up driving. I just have to say that.
DALEY: Kelly, who lives in Denver, says she started to notice her eyesight decline in her 80s. She got anxious driving highway. So she decided to stop before her kids made the move for her.
H. KELLY: I want to decide myself, so I just told them I'd stop driving on my birthday, my 90th birthday. Then I was mad at myself because I did it.
DALEY: Mad, why?
H. KELLY: Well, 'cause I thought I was still pretty good (laughter).
DALEY: Kelly is now 94. She says her last accident was in the 1960s.
H. KELLY: I think it's just better to make up your own mind than have your kids go through trying to tell you and everybody gets mad.
DALEY: Her daughter Leslie says she's grateful she and her siblings didn't have to have that tough conversation. Still, Leslie knows it's been tough for her mom.
LESLIE KELLY: It really cut down on her ability to feel independent, I think.
H. KELLY: It certainly did (laughter).
DALEY: Kelly is a great example of planning for a driving retirement, says Dr. Emmy Betz with the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
EMMY BETZ: Retirement is something that happens to all of us. And you prepare for it, you make financial plans, you think about what you're going to do.
DALEY: But, she says, most seniors don't do that when it comes to driving.
BETZ: It's sort of the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, but it's an issue coming for most of us and our family members. And so denial isn't probably the most helpful option.
DALEY: In my family, we've had to have that conversation twice. When my dad talked to my grandmother, she hid another set of keys and drove secretly until they found out. Then 30 years later, hell and no were just two of the choice words that erupted from my dad when an Alzheimer's diagnosis prevented him from driving anymore. Betz urges families to plan ahead, talk about it years before it happens and map out transportation alternatives.
BETZ: Imagine if I told you to give me your keys and you can no longer drive starting right now. I mean, what would you do? It's totally unrealistic that we think that that's an OK thing to do to older people.
DALEY: Nationally, until the year 2030, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day. Drivers can get a discount on their insurance by taking a driver safety class. At a senior center in Aurora, Chris Loffredo teaches just such a class. She asked the 20 or so attendees to think about everything from how medications might affect them to how new technologies in cars may help them. And she wants them to strategize.
CHRIS LOFFREDO: You have to know when to give up your keys.
DALEY: But not a hand goes up when the group is asked if they're ready to talk about that. Seventy-two-year-old retiree Robert McSherry says for now, he's in denial
ROBERT MCSHERRY: One thinks, well, that you will live forever.
H. KELLY: We're off.
DALEY: Harriet Kelly says she's made adjustments since she gave up the keys four years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You got your sunglasses?
H. KELLY: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK.
DALEY: She now hires a companion or Uber to take her on errands. She also gets rides from friends, but she says quite frankly there are...
H. KELLY: Fewer and fewer people I'll drive with in their 80s. I must say that.
DALEY: In fact, says researcher Betz, if older drivers present a danger, it's mostly to themselves and their passengers. She says fatal crash rates are higher for older drivers, but mostly because they don't heal as well after a crash. For NPR News, I'm John Daley in Denver.
WERTHEIMER: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
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