Aino Leskinen is an 84-year-old woman living in PoCo.
She immigrated to Canada from northern Europe when she was 32 and lived in Montreal, Toronto and eventually the Lower Mainland. She didn't understand English when she moved here, but over the years and with informal schooling has found herself able to get by.
That is until, according to Leskinen, her language barrier caused her to fail a verbal examination with her doctor and subsequently caused her to lose her drivers' licence.
Then on Oct. 8 she went to her local motor vehicle branch and was issued a learner's licence. Now, at 84, Leskinen is driving with an "L" slapped on the back of her car.
"I've been driving all over Canada for 45 years with no problems," Leskinen told the Tri-Cities NOW. "I have to practise like a young kid now."
According to Leskinen, it all started when she went to her doctor and did a verbal test for Alzheimer's disease.
When she failed the examination her doctor reported the results.
Leskinen maintains it was a language barrier that caused her to fail, and not Alzheimer's.
But the Deputy Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, Stephanie Melvin, told the Tri-Cities NOW it takes a lot more than one examination for a drivers' licence to be taken away.
"There's quite an elaborate process for people to go through," she said. "Nothing is done as a snap decision."
Melvin said when seniors reach 80, they must undergo a medical examination with their doctor. In this exam, seniors are asked about their health and to do minor physical movements, such as turning their neck.
Those who fail the medical exam are then asked to conduct a cognitive assessment with an occupational therapist, an in-office exam made up of five miniature tests.
A senior may have a friend or family member there to assist if needed, Melvin added. Those who fail that do an on-road driving exam specifically designed to test the cognitive ability of seniors.
"This is probably the saddest part of the job, because you get people who could quote Plato or Socrates, who have these brilliant memories, and their driving abilities are one of the first things to go," Melvin said.
According to Melvin, 80 per cent of seniors at 80 years old pass their medical, and three per cent lose their licence after failing all examinations.
"It does have devastating consequences," Melvin said. "You've lived your whole life and made all these contributions to British Columbia and helped build the province, and you don't want to be in a position in your senior years where you've been in an accident and hurt someone. It's a horrible thing to live with."
Lorraine Logan, transportation critic for the Council of Senior Citizens of BC (COSCO), said it's devastating for seniors to lose their licence, but it's not done lightly.
"They are extremely fair," Logan said. "These licences aren't taken arbitrarily."
COSCO is an advocacy group for senior citizens across the province and is always worried about ageism and other factors playing into seniors losing their licence.
"On the other hand, if there's any suspicion at all of someone who is physically or mentally unable to drive, then COSCO does not support that person," she said.
Despite the specifics of this case, Logan says it's always a difficult time when someone loses the privilege to drive.
"It's hard because it's their freedom," Logan said. "What it does is it creates isolation for older people. It's devastating to them. It's a shame."
Logan suggests seniors prepare for this day, similar to having an earthquake kit at home.
"Try using public transportation every now and again so when something does happen, you are able to get around publicly," she said.
Leskinen will be driving when she can with someone else in the car now, but is still upset with her doctor and ICBC after she lost her full licence.
"It's very difficult to live without driving in a community designed for cars," she said.
According to ICBC, seniors aged 70 and over cause 95 out of every 1,000 accidents in B.C. The average crash rate for drivers of all ages is 124 out of every 1,000.
According to a study conducted by Statistics Canada in 2009 (the last available), 90 per cent of seniors with a valid drivers' licence drive at least once a week.
60 per cent report driving as their most common form of transportation.
Six per cent report using public transit.
Three per cent report walking to get around.
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