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A fortunate few older people are independent, mobile

By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star

Ellen Grossman, 97, gets behind the wheel and drives herself where she needs to go. One of the hale elderly, she hasn’t yet given any thought to transportation or care services.

She’s one of thousands of area residents — with more to come — who still have independent mobility. And despite caricatures to the contrary, they generally drive well.

“Older drivers are actually less dangerous on the road because most self-limit their driving,” said Annette Maggard Lewer, an occupational therapist with the Rehabilitation Institute, which has a safe-driving program for seniors. “They avoid rush hour and stick to familiar routes.”

The key to safe driving is honest and correct assessment of vision, hearing and mobility capabilities, Lewer said, noting that there are devices such as bigger rearview mirrors that can help older drivers.

Grossman says she drives with caution.

“I use a cane now. I did have a hip replacement when I was 95, so I try to be careful of it,” Grossman said. “But I’m fortunate. … Yes. I have my hearing and eyesight.”

A couple of times a week she drives from her Johnson County home, where she has lived since 1948, to her younger sister’s home near Raytown.

“She’s going through chemo, and I’m doing the grocery shopping for her,” said the former telephone company employee who worked in downtown Kansas City for 49 years before retiring.

She hasn’t driven downtown recently to see all the changes, but she intends to do that.

“I stay busy,” Grossman said. “I go to the hairdresser every week. I couldn’t tell you what else I do. It seems like I run all the time. I like to shop, though not too much lately.”

Grossman, whose husband died 21 years ago, hasn’t looked into senior residential centers.

She’s happy in her house, which she describes as “very modest and easy to live in — no steps.”

She has neighbor friends. One is a 94-year-old woman she has known since 1951. Younger women next door enjoy visiting.

“But I say that if I’d have an obit, no one would know me,” Grossman said. “I’ve outlived them all.”

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