End of the road: Driving in old age | Nov. 22 to 24
Older drivers must honestly assess limitations
Speaking as a senior, I think it's time that we all realized our sight and reflexes are not what they were.
Yet we continue to drive and, much too often, we endanger the lives of our children and grandchildren — the very people we have nurtured during our adult lives — not to mention all the others on the road whose lives are of equal value.
We need to be honest with ourselves, no matter how much it may hurt. If our sight is failing and our reflexes are slowing, we should give up driving. What we would save in gas, auto repairs and insurance each year, I believe, would offset the cost of taking cabs.
Think about it: cabs vs. the pain of knowing we have physically harmed someone because of our stubborn pride.
Larry Silver, Oldsmar
What do seniors want?
From your stories, it's clear that older drivers are afraid of becoming a burden to others or more isolated. Driving means independence and is a link to the rest of the world. To have that access restricted is like not having a phone or TV. It's the kind of loss that could lead to depression and further isolation.
We know that transportation options here for nondrivers are inadequate. We're asking older drivers to volunteer to learn new systems and ways of operating when many are already burdened by financial and health problems.
Perhaps we'd be more successful in getting unsafe older drivers off the road if we focused on what they need. Transportation that's available on short notice, at a reasonable price, that's safe, seems to be the top priority, but do we know what seniors really want? If taxis and buses, which meet many of the criteria, don't appeal to them or don't seem like the right option, can we as a community create other options?
We have Meals on Wheels programs. We know the contact is important in addition to the food. How many people would rather be taken out to eat, at least once a week, for the conversation and companionship or just the change of scene?
You've raised awareness of the issue: Can you do a survey and let us know what seniors want the community to do to help?
Then we'd know what would make a difference.
Wendy Pressoir, Clearwater
A dangerous enabling
The tone of Dr. Douglas Johnson's quote frightens me: "I can fill that form for you and keep the government happy for a few more years." He seriously allowed a senior citizen with terrible eyesight — and difficulty hearing — to keep driving, all to make her feel good? And all because Miriam Feldman selfishly doesn't want to give up a fish sandwich or switch to different soda bottles? What happens when she drives without her new glasses?
If you have ever been in terrifying car accident caused by a person too old to drive, and if you personally know responsible senior citizens who knew when they had to find new ways of getting from place to place, your blood pressure will go up, too, hearing Johnson's words. It makes you afraid to hit the streets.
I know the St. Petersburg Times' readership includes a high senior population, but it is not in the best interest of the community at large to encourage them to try to persuade their doctors to sign off on six more years of driving.
While the "How to start the discussion" segment is helpful, it doesn't set a strong enough tone. "Dad, stop driving. That's the third mailbox I've had to replace. I'll drive," is much more up front about reality.
Dr. Johnson says Miriam's eyesight "just skidded by." I guarantee it's just a matter of time until she skids into someone.
Sarah Lehrmann, Clearwater
There are no excuses
Your stories clearly illustrated how thoroughly unqualified many seniors are to be out driving on the highways.
What is so sad is the fact that some of them actually believe they can no longer live a full life without an automobile and in the necessity of the state to adopt hearing and reflex tests after a certain age for license renewal.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority operates a widespread system of public transit including wheelchair transport on board the buses, all with reduced prices for seniors and disabled people.
In addition, special buses include personal pickup and delivery of those who use wheelchairs and other disabled people. Many special services including meal deliveries to the home are offered by a variety of government and private agencies. In short, there is no excuse for operating a vehicle when one can no longer do so safely.
John Royse, St. Petersburg
The heartbreaking stories of seniors who lost their drivers' licenses must motivate our county and state to intervene with an effective program of reduced cost senior/handicapped van transportation service. One service charges $7 for round-trips and this is clearly unaffordable for most seniors. Another service charges $29 for a wheelchair patient transport.
Excessive costs and inconvenience for alternative transportation services will only keep more unqualified drivers on the road. Let us help the handicapped with inexpensive and convenient services so they, too, can enjoy mobility and companionship and normal lives.
Joan Peters, Largo
Consider the benefits
Joetta Marlor and other elderly drivers should look on the good side of not driving. When my mother worried that her driving could hurt a child, she told me to sell her car. At the time her breathing was labored, but she walked up the slight hill to get the bus and her breathing cleared up.
She went where and when she wanted on the bus. She lived to 101, so after a while she decided that no matter how many taxis she took it would never add up to the money she spent on her car. Every taxi driver in the area knew my mother and they learned quickly that if they wanted a good tip it was best not to ask for a quarter to carry a grocery bag.
So, Mrs. Marlor, life after driving can be rewarding and enjoyable. My best wishes to you and your children.
Kay Griffiths, Redington Beach
An obstructed view
Thanks to your writer for this series. In the first installment is a picture of a driver in motion while the large handicapped parking placard is hanging from the rearview mirror.
I would like to remind drivers that these placards are necessary only while parked and can seriously diminish visibility while driving. This obstruction could mean the difference between seeing the motorcyclist, bicyclist or pedestrian in the next lane.
An easy way to remember to remove the placard is to place a rubber band around the gearshift lever. When you see or feel it, you are reminded it is time to install or remove the card. Another rubber band can be placed around the sun visor to hold the card while driving.
Deborah Diesing, St. Petersburg
Women should focus more on their overall health
It is unfortunate that the recent recommendations for mammograms caused such an outcry rather than a discussion of what they were trying to say.
Why is it that women demand yearly mammograms but not EKGs, and yet heart disease kills women also? What about bone density scans since osteoporosis is a major concern as we grow older? What about chest X-rays, especially for those who still smoke, since women are dying of lung cancer in greater numbers? Why is it that we don't get a colonoscopy until 50 and if it's clear it's "see you in 10 years"?
We need to be less fixated about our breasts and more concerned about our total health. Finally, for those of you who are obese, the complications of obesity will kill more of you than breast cancer.
A baseline mammogram at 40 along with some of these other tests will be a good start for preventive medicine.
Sally Laufer, BSN, RN, Palm Harbor
Science, not emotion | Nov. 19, editorial
A cost in lives lost
You are dead wrong when you support the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force as "scientific." Yes, the underlying studies may be labeled scientific, but the recommendations are health policy based on a cost/benefit analysis.
The new guidelines for women aged 40 to 49 are to not get mammograms and to not do breast self-examinations because only one out of 1,900 women's lives will be saved.
There are approximately 23 million women in this country in this age group. That means that over 12,000 women will develop breast cancer that might not be diagnosed and treated until they reach the magic age of 50. So the policy decision is that it is not worth the expense and inconvenience to perhaps save the lives of these 12,000 women.
Because of these new policy guidelines, I foresee that health insurance companies will not provide coverage for mammograms for women in their 40s in the future. This is where the cost savings will occur. Great, more profit for insurance companies.
By the way, I am a survivor whose breast cancer was found by mammography when I was in my 40s.
Pat St. Clair, Clearwater
Use your good judgment
I am concerned about these new "standards" for mammograms, since my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost a breast in 1995 and then died from cancer in November 1998. My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer in her late 70s. Other forms of cancer claimed my grandfather at the age of 39 and took the life of my dad at age 78. I think everyone should use their own good judgment and look at their family medical history as a guide for these exams. I am 56 now and will continue to get a mammogram every year because of my family cancer history.
I hope people will not get hysterical and will use good common sense with this new information. They also need to consult their doctors.
Eileen E. Abbott, St. Petersburg
Maybe I've gotten paranoid after years of misinformation campaigns that have been waged by both ends of the political spectrum. Not to mention the garbage that media outlets everywhere spew as "truthful" reporting. I can't help but wonder about the timing of the report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that recommends backing off testing and self-examination for breast cancer until after 50. This was followed a couple days later by the same type of recommendation for pap smears.
Whether these are sane, prudent recommendations (which I challenge) remains to be seen. It's the convenient timing I wonder about: the same week that the largest health care reform bill in American history faces a key voted in the Senate. These recommendations have fanned the flames of rhetoric about "health care rationing" and laid out yet another set of stumbling blocks to health care reform.
The Health and Human Resources secretary came out almost immediately and challenged these recommendations, suggesting women listen to their doctors. I can't help but wonder what the Preventive Task Force's agenda might be and why they released these recommendations when they did. I seems politically motivated to me.
Jeff Cutting, Brandon
Energy wisdom scarce; energy supplies aren't | Nov. 24, George Will column
A job for government
George Will certainly has a way with words. According to him "environmentalism" is the new "socialism" and the Earth's finite natural resources have now become infinite. He also takes conserve out of conservatism, leaving a gaping -ism that can only be described as Pollyannaism.
He is correct, however, that big business won't get into alternative energy production until it is worth their while to do so. Therefore it falls to so-called big-government to regulate and subsidize in order to incentivize them to do the right thing.
Fred Jacobsen, Apollo Beach
10 suspended for "kick a Jew day" | Nov. 25, story
School should do more
I am appalled to have read in the St. Petersburg Times (and also seen on ABC News) about the incident that took place in a Naples, Fla., middle school: "kick a Jew day."
Are we living in the 21st century? Are we living in America? How can the school possibly allow these ignorant, anti-Semitic students to escape punishment with a slap on the wrist and one-day suspensions? They should be made to sit and watch documentaries on the Holocaust and then be made to have a trip to the Holocaust Museum either here in St. Petersburg or in the Miami area.
Discrimination and religious hatred should not be tolerated in any form.
Exactly what is the school doing to educate these and other children in this area? As a Florida resident and a proud Jew, I demand to see something done other than a ridiculous one-day suspension. This should be stopped in its tracks before it escalates and is copied in other schools.
Lou Bader, St. Petersburg