Independence in the home or apartment requires ” as needed ” transportation.
If a senior is still driving, take the following steps to make their driving safer and easier. With the agreement and support of the senior, you can:
- Periodically examine the car for reliability. You don’t want the car to leave the senior stranded, and if finances are tight, repairing brakes is more important than replacing a dented bumper. Test drive it yourself. Examine the tires. Verify the fluids — especially the windshield washer — are full. Test the brakes. Check the steering wheel for any signs of excessive looseness or play. Make sure the windshield is clean. If you have any doubts, take the care to a mechanic for inspection. An unsafe car is more dangerous for someone who has slower reaction time.
- Is the senior providing routine maintenance? If not, assist him in locating a reliable shop and schedule the needed work. Routine maintenance can help keep a car reliable and safe.
- Is the car the right vehicle for the senior? People get emotionally attached to cars, which can prevent them from looking at their needs and moving to a better vehicle for then. For example, many seniors have traditionally driven sedans. On their own, they may never discover that a small SUV might be easier for them to enter and exit and provide better visibility. If the senior can afford the cost, consider suggesting they look at alternatives. They may be fine with a sedan now, but in a year that car might be much more difficult to drive. It is better to make the change before it becomes critical.
- Take a ride with the senior, observing his skills and driving ability. Can he anticipate traffic? Does he get lost or confused? Does he know how to get to his usual places, like the supermarket, church, or friends house? Is he capable of handling a detour to those places? Does he keep the gas tank filled?
- Does the senior know his limits regarding distances and night driving? Sometimes just a reminder or gentle encouragement can help the senior decide not to drive after dark or limit his driving time.
If the senior doesn’t drive, how can he maintain his independence?
Only a few seniors are lucky enough to have children, family, or neighbors who can provide a full time, on-demand transportation service whenever they need or want to leave the house. Many others have a willing child or neighbor who will provide occasional rides, but volunteers are seldom enough to fill their daily needs. Investigate these other resources:
- Medicare covers emergency transportation, such as 911 to the hospital. And with advance arrangements, Medicare may cover non-emergency trips to the doctors for chronic conditions if those regular trips are deemed a medical necessity. Contact Medicare well in advance of any trip.
- Medicaid pays for non-emergency trips to medical appointments.
- Under the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), public transportation companies are required to provide accessible transportation. While the level of service and usefulness will vary, it is definitely worth contacting your local public transportation, explaining the seniors locations and needs, and determining if their service offerings can be helpful. If not, they may have other options.
- Many municipalities and counties have some type of Department of Aging, Area Aging Department, or Services for the Aged. Contact them to ask about transportation possibilities. Again, if they cannot help, ask them for suggestions.
- Look for Community Transportation Programs operated by the Red Cross and other organizations.
- Contact private companies who specialize in senior assistance. More private sector companies are recognizing the need for transportation services and providing vans for transportation to and from medical appointments. Be aware that the senior must schedule the ride in advance. Fees vary but are not cheap.
Managing Expectations is the Key
The loss of personal transportation ( their own car) is disappointing to anyone. Relying on children, friends, or neighbors can be demoralizing. And it may be worse when faced with relying on community services. There is no easy way to prepare the senior. You can gently approach the subject by emphasizing the benefits of the alternatives, such as:
- No worry about driving during bad weather
- No worry about traffic problems or delays
- Reliable and safe transportation
- Companionship on the ride
Whatever your approach, remain objective and supportive. Emphasize the final result: the ability to get to his destination.