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Column: Being old does not mean it's all your fault

Growing old isn't for sissies.

The older I get - and I'm only 55, for the record - the more I realize that's the truth. Already, I've made concessions to a body whose bones now ache when it snows or the temperature dips below 40 degrees. It's the reason I left the Chicago area and its six-month-long blustery winters to move to the warmer, sunnier climes of Arizona. I just can't take the cold anymore.

Growing old comes with its own set of problems. There's often crankiness brought on by health issues, from failing eyesight and hearing to stiff limbs and a host of ailments that seem to manifest themselves about the time Medicare kicks in. The fear of nursing homes and assisted living - or even hospice - rears its ugly head from time to time, as if to remind the elderly of what awaits them.

Sometimes there's confusion, brought on by a world that's technologically expanding by leaps and bounds. Learning to use a television remote is challenging enough without adding Facebook, Instagram, smart phones and smart watches. Even driving a car becomes stressful as aging slowly robs the elderly of sharp thinking and quick responses. It's why the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division requires that driver's licenses issued for those 60 years and older be renewed every five years.

So when Jim, 82, a Kingman resident, called me this week to ask if I could run an article so he could apologize for, of all things, being old, I was a bit taken aback. It seems that Jim and his wife, Phyllis, 80, suffer from a number of ailments, from double scoliosis and spina bifida for her to poor circulation and head injuries from falling frequently for him. Jim, a Korean War veteran, and Phyllis are both on oxygen and require the use of walkers. They are, quite naturally, a bit cranky at times.

Because they have no family and few friends here, Jim must drive to the grocery store himself when they need food and other necessities. Usually, he takes the back roads to Bashas to avoid traffic, but because the ATM wasn't working on Tuesday morning, he was forced to detour to Smith's on Stockton Hill Road. After making his purchases, he drove a back road to Sycamore Avenue and waited for the light to turn green so he could make a left turn onto Stockton Hill Road.

That's where the trouble began.

"I thought I would take a chance on Stockton Hill Road and I made the mistake of turning onto it," said Jim. "I made a quick left turn about 9:30 a.m. and a pickup truck coming towards me almost ran into me. The driver slammed on the brakes and honked at me. I was wrong and that driver was right, and I want the driver to know that I apologize. It was my fault. Let this be a warning for elderly people like me to always take the back roads."

Really? Maybe drivers on Stockton Hill Road and its feeders should slow down so people - whether they're elderly or young - don't get hurt. I see the tailgating and angry passing all the time on those roads. Jim is quick to point out that he obeys all the traffic laws and uses his turn signals religiously because he is from an older generation, which actually makes him a safer driver. He doesn't want to use his last name because he's afraid his driver's license will be taken away and they couldn't eat.

I understand Jim's situation. Vehicles were sitting behind and beside him, impatiently waiting to enter the intersection, and he was nervous. The light turned green and it was do or die. So he turned, and his action created a problem for another driver. It happens to the best of us, no matter our age.

But it certainly doesn't mean elderly drivers should be relegated to the back roads. They have just as much right as anyone to travel through Kingman and take care of their business - without any apologies.


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