When You Are Concerned - A guide for families, friends and caregivers concerned about the safety of an older driver(When You Are Concerned is also available as a PDF)
"I hate to say it, but you really have to look to the family for the first solution."
In a society which has largely preferred the individual automobile to most other forms of transport, it should come as no surprise that our transportation system mirrors our very wish. And what an impressive system it is. It allows us a truly unprecedented level of freedom. We can go where we want, when we want.
But knowing what we do today, few believe if we had it to do over again we should have relied so heavily upon the automobile. Indeed, it is ironic that the very suburban locations made possible by the automobile are now destined to strand those who can no longer drive!
Sadly, the need to develop transportation options beyond the personal automobile is just now coming into the cross hairs of the policy makers. The movement is being stimulated, in part, by the notion that our aging society can't rely on just the automobile for its mobility. Indeed, when people can no longer drive, how will they get the necessities of life? The problem is one of the more formidable challenges of the millennium. Solutions, of course, will come in time. Until then, your transportation options may be very limited.
Many families provide transportation for aging parents and relatives who no longer drive. Those who do suggest the following:
- If possible, share the driving responsibility with another family member.
- Work out a driving schedule and be flexible enough to allow for adjustments in plans.
- Call your aging family member ahead of time to confirm pick up time. This way they will be ready when you arrive. Calling can also save a trip if they decide not to go out that day.
- Arrange for prescriptions, newspapers, groceries, and so forth, to be delivered.
- Try to keep your loved one involved with the friends and activities they previously drove to.
- Seek help from your loved one's close friends. Discuss with them any transportation difficulties you have meeting. They will likely want to help especially with transportation to medical, religious services or social events.
- Your loved one is a member of the generations who enjoyed often ritual "Sunday drives." Inviting your loved one to come along, "just for the ride," when running an errand, will be deeply appreciated whether you are accompanied or not!
FINDING COMMUNITY TRANSPORTATION SERVICES
Begin looking for community transportation services by calling the area agency on aging where your loved one resides. (See Chapter 3 for how an AAA can be of help). The area agency on aging will have information on taxis, public transportation services (including fixed route and door to door), senior specific transportation services, reduced fares and transportation services for seniors needing special assistance (with ambulettes and other special vehicles). If need be, the area agency on aging will refer you to the regional transportation authority or to a community organization providing transportation.
Traditional mass transit services usually run a fixed route on a fixed schedule. Paratransit and shared ride services are flexible because they are driven by customer/client needs. Reservations may be required a day or more in advance. This is door-to-door or curb-to-curb transportation, often with the driver providing some assistance.
Here are some questions to ask when you call or follow up with the transportation provider:
- What is the service area of the transportation provider?
- What is the eligibility criteria to use the service?
- How much does it cost? Do they offer reduced fares?
- If so, how does one receive a reduced fare?
- What are the hours and days of service?
- How much assistance does the driver provide?
- Does the driver help with packages?
- Is there anyone who can go along to help your loved one learn how to use the service? (If not, ask if you can go along to help)
- What kind of transportation is available for wheelchair bound or persons using walkers or with limited mobility? Can a companion ride along? Ride for free?
- Additionally, find out if your loved one's insurance will pay for transportation to medical appointments.
Once you receive the information, your goal is to try to fit your family member into each service eligibility profile. Remember mobility for special paratransit services is often determined by a health care professional. Your family member may need a medical sign-off to use a special transportation services.
AARP has a very helpful "Community Transportation Resource Worksheet." Use the worksheet to catalogue your local transportation options. The AARP worksheet also provides useful information for obtaining transportation.
SOME TIPS FOR USING TRANSPORTATION SERVICES
Once your loved one is using community transportation, he or she should:
- Carry personal identification and a card listing "whom to contact in an emergency."
- Carry any special medications they need to take more than once daily.
- Carry appropriate gear and clothing for changes in the weather.
- Learn to ask for help.
When a person can no longer drive, relocating to improve mobility is a common solution. See section On "Relocating To Improve Mobility" In Chapter 8.
SOME RURAL SOLUTIONS
How do seniors who don't drive get around when there are no transportation services? Often by riding with others, usually seniors who still drive. In rural areas, word of mouth, church or grange bulletin boards, the Pennysaver and the group meeting mornings at the local coffee shop, are resources commonly tapped for connecting up with a regular ride.
Long time riders say they always offer to pay the driver something or buy gas. Long time drivers say they always accept payment from riders! Have a ride and want to keep it? Now you know. In some rural localities, residents set a CB radio to an open channel which they all monitor. A person can call if they need help, when they are going into town, or if they need a ride.
Today's big chain supermarkets often have pharmacies, bakeries, videos and even more available. They make one stop shopping possible. Good if you can't easily get around. Also good because more and more of these superstores are sending out vans to pick up seniors and others who don't drive. Some of the stores also provide little electric scooters for people with mobility issues to use. If your loved one's supermarket or area superstore does not have a pick up service, find out when they will be getting one. "Ask and ye shall receive."
THE ITN TRANSPORTATION MODEL (one example of community transportation)
Lots of local senior transportation programs exist around the country. And they do a great job. The Independent Transportation Network (ITN) in Portland, Maine is one which has received much national press for its success and decidedly unique approach.
For openers, you have to become a member to ride the ITN system. Membership provides access to door to door transportation via a mix of volunteers using their own automobiles and paid drivers using ITN vehicles. A computer program is used to efficiently link riders with drivers and common destinations.
Members have a number of payment options including one where they can trade their cars in to get direct credit for transportation on the ITN system. The ITN also has an arrangement where local merchants who are patronized by ITN members, actually help to subsidize their rides!
The Independent Transportation Network owes its existence to Kathy Freund, who saw the pressing need for senior transportation and mobilized an entire community to come up with a successful solution. Want to do the same? See end pages for how to contact Kathy.
VOLUNTEER TRANSPORTATION PROGRAMS
All manner of community groups from churches to the local VFW Post use volunteers to provide transportation for seniors and disabled persons. Some use vehicles provided through federal grants. You may be able to piece together transportation coverage for your loved one through one or more such volunteer transportation programs. Your area agency on aging and regional transportation authority are starting points for learning about transportation services and volunteer transportation programs, in particular.
SOME INDIVIDUAL SOLUTIONS
"When my mother became at-risk behind the wheel, I put an ad in the paper for a driver. I eventually hired a young woman to take my mother around in her car. She and mother developed a real friendship. When mother be came frail, the young woman became her personal care aide. She took care of her until she died."
"My uncle had to stop driving. His driving had become unsafe. He agreed to sell his car. I took the proceeds from the sale and worked out an arrangement with a local cab company to transport him whenever he needed to go anywhere. I set up an account and they bill against it. They even wait for him when he goes into a store to shop. It works beautifully."
Volunteer programs do some wonderful things. The Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity are fine examples.
If you can have a program like Habitat for Humanity arrange for thousands of volunteers to construct affordable housing, why not a national program to arrange for thousands of safe retired volunteer drivers to provide senior transportation where there is none?
The "how to'' expertise can be found in the many community organizations already operating volunteer transportation programs. So are the mobile phone, global position and electronic call forwarding technologies needed to link rider with driver.
Have the national program add in liability insurance coverage, vehicle inspection, a driver medical/safe driving check along with a recognition program, and you'd likely attract volunteer drivers like ants to a picnic.
How will people in hundreds of suburban and rural communities get to the grocery store when they can no longer drive? This is one way!