Transportation for elders can ease driving transition
Most of us with aging relatives will eventually face the “how do we stop them from driving” problem. To many people, driving a car equals independence. One reason for that is the lack of convenient public transportation in much of our country. Very large American cities such as New York, plus most of Europe’s large cities, generally have good public transportation, so people who don’t drive aren’t stranded. But across the country, accessible public transportation for elders is hard to come by.
My own high plains state is especially poor at providing affordable public transportation. There’s an “everyone has his own horse” mentality. True, the metro areas have elder commissions that often provide senior vans, but this can be costly for many seniors and doesn’t allow for spur of the moment trips. For most seniors, taxi rides are financially out of reach. Para-transit buses for the disabled are available, but like senior van rides, they often are costly and they must be scheduled. All of these services are better than nothing, but they are hardly ideal.
In an article titled Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options, this situation is spotlighted as a national problem. The organization Transportation for America ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation.
The article states that “By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.”
It’s not just big cities
While this analysis was done in the Atlanta area, I would hazard a guess that rural areas are even worse. Generally, the term “aging in place” is thought to be a positive movement that helps elders stay in their homes longer. However, Transportation for America uses the phrase in a different manner, suggesting that many elders are, or will be, unable to get to the services they need because there is no affordable and easily accessible transportation for them.
Families often drive their elders to as many medical appointments as possible, but most adult children are working at least one outside job. They can’t be available just anytime. So, elders can become increasingly isolated as they sit at home because they don’t have transportation to get to a lunch date with friends, or out to the senior center.
Socialization, or lack thereof, has been shown in numerous studies to be linked to mental health and even Alzheimer’s disease, and socialization often depends on transportation.
More options for everyone would be ideal
It’s generally suggested that when an elder starts to show signs of poor driving habits, the family should try to make gradual changes. The elder should be given options to be driven by family members at night and in busy areas where traffic is heavy. Gradually, the family, in an ideal situation, then shows the elder that options are available to get transportation to where the elder wants to go, anytime.
I say that this is the ideal, because, as mentioned above, the family isn’t always available to drive the elder, and public options are limited. As a nation, we need to think through senior transportation. In the process, we will also make dependence on personal transportation less necessary for millions of poor and disabled people, as well as those who wish to be environmentally responsible by driving their cars less.
One rural Minnesota community has found a viable solution to this issue through the non-profit agency Productive Alternatives, Inc. PA is dedicated to providing diverse human services, one of which is a transit service especially helpful to seniors and people with disabilities. As with many organizations in large metro areas, PA’s transit arm asks that people call a couple of days in advance to schedule a ride, however they do have some flexibility, and often can offer a ride on the spur of the moment. More rural areas need to look at these options.
I wish Transportation for America well in their efforts to raise awareness of the lack of options in most of the U.S. for those who shouldn’t drive. Awareness can often lead to competitive options that will help our entire population cope with high gas prices, environmental damage and inconvenience.