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Buxton, N.D. woman helps senior citizens maintain their independence through driving lessons, other means

Tandberg, who has almost 38 years of experience as an occupational therapist, owns Dak-Minn Driving and Home Evaluations, which exists to provide comprehensive driving tests to senior citizens and those who have had a change in medical status which could affect their ability to drive.

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Joy Tandberg owns Dak-Minn Driving and Home Evaluations, where she tries to help senior citizens and those with a changed medical status return to driving.
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GRAND FORKS — Several years ago, Joy Tandberg was helping her mother in a time when she was reaching a crossroads.

Then living in Colorado, she was taking care of her elderly mother while helping her determine if he was fit to drive cars anymore.

“I did not know what or if anything was available to help us make that determination,” Tandberg said. “Big family, seven kids, seven differing opinions. It wasn't a great situation at the time, and unfortunately for mom, it took her having a small accident.”

Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the incident was enough to convince her to relinquish control of the wheel. After moving to North Dakota three-and-a-half years ago and working for Altru, Tandberg had an idea.

Tandberg, who has almost 38 years of experience as an occupational therapist, owns Dak-Minn Driving and Home Evaluations, which exists to provide comprehensive driving tests to senior citizens and those who have had a change in medical status which could affect their ability to drive.

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There are currently three certified driving rehabilitation specialists in North Dakota — one in Fargo and two in Bismarck. She is working to become the fourth. She said she believes continuing her education would help her new career.

“I worked with a mentor out on the East Coast who (has) been doing driving rehab for over 20 years and really started to love this service area,” Tandberg said. “So, through my mentor there, with Kurt (Sandburg) and his crew (at Grand Forks SCORE), I was encouraged to start doing this on a private basis.”

Tandberg decided to begin meeting patients in their homes and catering to where they usually drove their vehicles to try to alleviate the anxiety of driving in new places. She has found most of her patients fare better when driving in their own environment.

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Joy Tandberg works with a patient at Dak-Minn Driving and Home Evaluations.<br/>
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“When I was at Altru, every time I had a driving evaluation, either the patient or a family member would call and say, ‘They're not gonna have to drive in Grand Forks, are they?’” Tandberg said. “Because they would never drive in Grand Forks.”

Each patient needs something different. If they need adaptive equipment, then they get training sessions with the equipment as an aid before testing with the state again. If they have cognitive issues, then they receive training to learn special techniques to try to overcome those issues while driving. If they have vision problems, are stroke survivors or whatever the condition may be, Tandberg provides them access to help and practice in order to retain their sense of independence.

That sense of independence is incredibly important, too. Not just to patients’ physical wellbeing, but to their state of mind.

“Driving for almost everybody is synonymous with independence or freedom,” Tandberg said. “You take away that one thing that we've been doing all our lives and take away that ability to just jump in the car whenever you want to, that's a huge, huge part of our self esteem and our well being that is taken away.”

So, what about those who Tandberg determines should not drive anymore? She said it’s a tough decision to make, and it’s just as tough of a process to work through it with patients. She loves her job and working with patients, but some days are more difficult than others.

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“What's very hard is when I have to say to somebody, ‘This is not safe for you anymore. You are not safe to even drive down to have coffee with the boys in the morning,’” Tandberg said. “I will tell you I have cried with many, many patients when I've had to give them that kind of information, or when it's the person that they've lived in their home for 50 years, but they're not going to be safe to stay there any longer. Those are the times that it’s really hard.”

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Tandberg said maintaining participation in physical activities and interacting with others despite lacking the ability to drive is crucial to the well-being of her patients.

“We all know that if we don't get out and interact with other people, so many other things can happen,” Tandberg said. “We start to get depressed. We aren't getting out to exercise. Both our physical and our mental state just regresses so much.”

Tandberg said she loves the sense of accomplishment she gets from helping her patients transition into a new part of their lives.

“It's awesome,” Tandberg said. “Especially when I can tell the person that, ‘With these little restrictions or modifications, you can continue to drive for a period of time,’ or, ‘With installing this ramp, or getting that bath chair, you'll be able to stay at home longer.’ Those things always make you feel good, because that's what the person's goal is. They want to maintain that independence.”

Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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