When We Say “We Can’t” as We Age, Is it Common Sense or Psychological?


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I have a friend in her 70s who is a very reluctant driver, and she has been like that since at  least  her 50s.  For over twenty years, her longtime boyfriend drove her almost everywhere.  Since he’s moved out, she mostly drives to work, the doctor, and to neighborhood businesses.  She does not like to travel alone and has curtailed many things that she has enjoyed doing for years like taking the train to New York to attend the opera. (She does not like to drive from the close in Virginia suburbs to Union Station in DC for starters.)


I have another frend, also in her 70s, who has bought a new car with all of the safety features like accident avoidance cameras.  She’s a widow and is used to travelling by herself or with family or friends.  She wans to keep driving but wants to do it safely since an accident involving older driver is often perceived to be that driver’s fault.

I have another friend, in her late 70s, who will drive her minivan almost anywhere (with or without her husband.)  She is very active with many friends, hobbies, and interests.

So is an unwillingness to drive as we age, psychological or common sense? (Each of these ladies is in good health and to the best of my knowledge has no reason why she should not drive.)

I used to love to climb on rocks and explore tidepools.  I am now afraid to do that.  I can’t decide if that is commonsense or a self-imposed pyschological barrier.  Yet I see dozens of volunteers in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who climb up and down from the tidepools with no outward signs of trepidation.

There are many things that we can no longer safely do as we age.  So not doing some of those things make sense, especially if we have a medical condition that precludes doing them safely.  For other things, why do we allow ourselves to do things we could easily accomplish if we gave ourselves permission?

What have you given up as you age and why have you given it up?  Is it fear or reason that keeps you from continuing a previously beloved activity?

23 thoughts on “When We Say “We Can’t” as We Age, Is it Common Sense or Psychological?”

  1. As people age, they don’t necessarily “give up”, but they do become more and more aware of their mortality. They’ve seen too many of their friends and family pass on and the older they get – the more the odds are against them. They’ve noticed the new and unusual pain in the knees, or the back, etc and that eats at their confidence. Now they are not even certain of their strengths and limitations. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Good question! Wisdom and good sense … or fear and foolhardiness? I think that often, the lines between these ideas can very muddled or blurry.

    We do become more aware of our mortality and the voice of self-preservation certainly kicks-in.

    But, I also think that it is kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The less we do such things as climbing over rocks, the more we fear doing them and the less capable of doing them we become.

    Short of stupid or rash behavior, the longer we can “climb rocks,” the better off we are.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Darren, the “Longer we can climb rocks, the better off we are.” makes a good catchphrase. Here’s to climbing rocks, however, we envision that metaphor. I need to get going on my PT so I can go climb more rocks!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I drive as little as possible, having lived for many years in rural Upper Michigan and now living in a very busy suburban area of North Dallas, I feel this is a combination of reason and fear! The traffic really is crazy here, and it makes me quite nervous. At the bottom of it all, however, I think as we age, our “true selves” tend to emerge more. I was always a hesitant driver (and sometimes nervous while riding with others, as well), although I could force myself to drive places if I wanted to get there badly enough. As time goes on, those feelings become more difficult to ignore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very interesting observation Becky. At the bottom of it all, however, I think as we age, our “true selves” tend to emerge more.” I think you explain my first 70 something-year-old friend. Dallas is not a fun place to drive. We have relatives in the Metroplex and it can be scarier than DC or LA rush hour (which I have also experienced.)

      Liked by 2 people

  5. At almost 73, I think about this every once in a while. I have never been athletic, but I do enjoy being outdoors. I’ve spent more and more of my vacation time in recent years traveling to parts of the world where I have always wanted to explore. This has meant renting a car and driving in places where I do not know the local language and certainly not the roads and traffic habits. I’ve rarely given it a second thought, although I have been lost in Croatia and found myself in some odd corners of Iceland with a non-English speaking GPS. I’ve also enjoyed hiking by myself in the Canadian maritimes and the Scottish highlands. The closest I have come to wondering about my sanity was when I was caught in a heavy downpour on a woodsy tail 6 km from my car in Newfoundland. So yes, I think about whether I should start to act my age and cut back on my explorations. But then I think, “Nah, there’s plenty of time for caution when I get old.” And I’m not there yet.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think there must be a lot in it that’s psychological, but I’m sure there is common sense in there too as well as some physical limitation. But I think it also comes down to the fact that we’re a lot more fearless when younger. Interestingly I went to the beach a few months ago to clamber over rocks, etc. and found myself thinking ‘I can’t do it’ about some of the routes that I would once have found easy – not because I’m physically incapable of it, and I’m still relatively young at 48, but it was interesting….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a perfect example of what I think is psychology over ability (but I’m an English major so what do I really know?) You are relatively young being a mere pup of 40 something. And maybe the psychological limitations are a way to keep us safer.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. A lot of older people are afraid of falling, because a fall can radically change one’s quality of life. Someone once observed that aging isn’t a steady downward slope but a series of sudden declines. A fall can certainly be one of those. On the other hand, the longer one can remain relatively active and flexible, the better.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great, thought-inspiring post. I used to love hiking but I recently volunteered at my son’s 4th grade field trip and I was slipping on the loose leaves on the trail and got I breathless quickly, it surprised me 🙂. I’ve slowed down a lot since getting sciatica. It’s amazing how the body can so drastically change, I’m in my late 40s but I miss the flexibility, stamina and ease of movement that I used to have.


      1. That’s very true. Many in their 60s are more active and fit than 20 yr olds. I’m starting to feel the need to take care of my body more, and not let fear of injury dictate. I’m going to begin with low impact walking exercise dvds :).

        Liked by 1 person

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