What Do Seniors Need? Transportation!

Senior woman gets a ride from her daughter

After she retired, Margie moved into her dream home on the lake, far from the hustle and bustle of the city where she'd lived and worked. But as her vision worsened, Margie's adult children convinced her to stop driving. After she gave up the car, Margie found herself feeling isolated and lonely. It was hard to get to doctor appointments and her volunteer work. Amidst her protests, her family assured her, "Just let us know where you want to go and we'll give you a ride!" But they soon realized they hadn't anticipated just how many rides Margie would need!

Who knows more about what older adults need than the Eldercare Locator, the government helpline seniors and family caregivers can call to find support resources? You might think that assistance with housing, food programs and health services would be the most pressing needs. But Eldercare Locator experts report that they receive more inquiries about transportation than any other topic! Callers need help getting to routine medical appointments, the grocery store, and locations where they remain active in their community.

Confirming this challenge, a poll conducted by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) found that 72% of people older than 65 said that transportation was the greatest need they had. The NADTC reported, "With more than one in five Americans older than age 65 not driving, demand for transportation is steadily increasing as the boomer population continues to grow. Given that 600,000 people stop driving every year, there is no end to the challenge in sight."

Getting out and about is so important for senior health and well-being! But the changes of aging — vision and hearing loss, reduced manual dexterity and memory problems, along with the effects of many common health conditions — can make it unsafe for older adults to drive.

As they face this problem, some seniors decide to move to a senior living community that offers transportation services. But most prefer to stay in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their own homes.

Unfortunately, some older adults continue to drive themselves where they want to go, even when it isn’t safe for them to do so. Others rely on family and friends for a ride. And these family caregivers can find it challenging when they're called upon to serve as their loved one's transit company! According to the NADTC poll, "Caregivers play a pivotal role in helping older adults meet their transportation needs and most are happy to help, but they find providing or arranging rides to be extremely time consuming." The poll results found that 39% of caregivers spend five to 10 hours or more each week transporting their loved one, and 28% say this task feels overwhelming.

Building awareness of senior transportation options

Fortunately, there are other options:

Public transportation. Many communities have robust public transportation systems, with buses and/or rapid transit such as light rail and subways. Most offer discounted senior fares. However, the NADTC poll found that only 15% of older adults use these services, often because they find it daunting, or fear they'll be unsafe. Your local transit agency may offer classes for seniors to familiarize them with the routes they'll use, how to pay with smart cards, and the availability of special seating and other accommodations for people with disabilities.

Senior transit. When regular public transit is unavailable or inaccessible for a senior with physical or cognitive challenges, check out senior transport services such as scheduled paratransit vans and door-to-door "dial-a-ride" services with driver assistance. (Some are staffed by volunteers, if you're looking for an opportunity to give back to older adults in the community.) Yet the NADTC poll found that many seniors are unaware of these programs. Be sure to contact your local senior services department to learn more.

Taxicabs. One disadvantage of senior transportation services is that they can be relatively inflexible. Passengers usually have to schedule rides in advance, and they might have to wait quite a while for their van to arrive. Taxicabs can be a more convenient option. They can be pricey, but your community may offer discount coupons for seniors who qualify.

Ride-hailing services. More older adults these days are using app-driven services such as Uber and Lyft. They are usually less expensive than traditional cab service, though also perhaps a bit less safe and reliable. These companies usually require users to master a smartphone app. In some communities, ride-hailing programs especially for seniors are available.

Professional in-home care. If your family uses home care to keep a loved one safe at home, don't forget that caregivers can provide transportation. Make getting out and about part of your loved one's routine. And the ride is only the beginning. An Uber driver isn't going to sit in the doctor's waiting room with your loved one or assist them to the restroom. And seniors who hesitate to be active in the community can feel empowered by a caregiver's steadying arm. Talk to a reputable home care agency about your options. It's important to choose an agency that screens, trains and supervises their caregivers. This provides peace of mind for seniors and families alike. How nice to call Dad and hear that the caregiver took him to his weekly card game!

With all the transportation options that are available for seniors today, the inability to drive shouldn't be a barrier to the highest possible quality of life.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.