One of the greatest tools of independence is the ability to transport ourselves. It seems a simple enough task, but it’s something we may often take for granted.
While the majority of older adults can and do drive long into their senior years, not every senior does. As your parent gets older, they may no longer be able to drive themselves around, or they simply may not want to. While public transportation, such as buses or subways, can be a useful option for many people (including seniors), it might not be available or practical where your parent lives.
Still, if driving safely is becoming a concern, it’s a good idea for your parent to have some other mode of transportation that they can rely on. It’s not only essential in an emergency situation or to get to medical appointments, but it’s also useful for non-emergency occasions like running errands or visiting with friends and family.
As a caregiver for your mom or dad, you may want to discuss with them whether or not they still want to drive and what kind of transportation options they’ll have instead.
Once you know which alternatives are available, you might be able to help them choose a reliable, low-cost, and safe mode of transportation for seniors.
When is it time for Mom or Dad to stop driving?
Many older adults can continue driving well into their later years without any trouble. But that isn’t the case for everyone. The fact is that some of the natural effects of aging can limit your parent’s ability to drive safely. Consider these factors:
- Vision loss. Of course, a big part of driving safely is seeing what’s going on around you. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60, and it can greatly reduce your parent’s ability to get to and from a location in a safe manner. If you know your mom or dad’s eyesight is getting worse, it might be time to consider whether or not it’s safe for them to continue driving.
- Hearing loss. Don’t forget that hearing things around you — horns, sirens from emergency vehicles, indicator noises from your own vehicle — is a big part of driving as well. If Mom or Dad has a hard time hearing, the ability to drive safely could be impacted.
- Limited mobility. Maneuvering a car’s steering wheel takes strength and dexterity in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Looking around to check blind spots takes mobility in the neck and upper back. Depending on an older adult’s physical mobility and range of motion, driving may or may not be a good idea.
- Longer reaction times. Slower reaction times sometimes come along with getting older. Driving safely requires one to react quickly to other cars, pedestrians, signals, lane changes, and unexpected situations. While driving, a slower than normal reaction time could have dangerous results.
Of course, just because your parents are getting older doesn’t mean they must stop driving. It all depends on the person. But it’s important to be aware that some of the natural limitations of aging might make driving more difficult or less appealing. Some older adults simply don’t want the hassle of owning and maintaining a car, paying for car insurance, the stress of driving, etc. The good news is that there are plenty of other options for Mom or Dad.
Transportation options for seniors
If your parent has decided that they’re not going to drive anymore, the question has to be asked: How will they get around?
A family caregiver like yourself can shuttle them around where they need to go, yes. But it’s not always possible or practical for you to be there for your parent’s every transportation need. And whether it’s a simple trip to go grocery shopping or an important medical appointment that Mom or Dad can’t miss, they need reliable transport nonetheless.
Fortunately, there are several options when it comes to transportation for seniors. These include public and private transportation, paratransit services, and medical transportation.
Public transportation methods include buses, shuttles, trains, light rails or the subway, and even ferries. The area where your mom or dad lives may have several of these options available, and many of them are very low cost. Some offer senior discounts or might even be free to the public.
Of course, public transit isn’t a viable option for every older adult. For one thing, it may be too difficult to make it to the bus stop or train station, depending on the person’s physical mobility. And if Mom or Dad lives in a rural area, these options might simply be nonexistent. Even if there are options in your parent’s area, public transit can sometimes take much longer to get a person where they’re going than it would to drive directly there.
But if your parent can easily make it to the bus or train station and they don’t mind taking a little longer to reach their destination, public transportation can serve as a reliable, low-cost, or even free transport option.
Private transportation services
Private transportation is an alternative to public transit that works well for many older adults. What exactly is private transportation? It can mean a few things.
One option is a car service, which includes taxis and ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. The advantage of a ride-sharing service is that the driver comes directly to your parent’s door, or wherever they would like to meet. Keep in mind that these services require your parent to be comfortable using a smartphone, and they’re typically more expensive than public transportation options like buses or trains.
Private transportation might also refer to private agencies that provide drivers to take Mom or Dad wherever they need to go. There are door-to-door services that provide personal assistance to your parent, including help with bags, wheelchairs, etc.
There may also be volunteer driver programs operating in your parent’s area — these are often faith-based or nonprofit organizations that use a network of volunteers to transport older adults to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, shopping malls, or wherever else they might need to go.
There are also private transportation methods made specifically for the needs of older adults, sometimes called paratransit services. These services typically use vans or minibuses to pick up passengers, and may or may not offer door-to-door service.
The vehicles are usually wheelchair- and handicapped-accessible to address the transportation needs of seniors, especially those with limited mobility or physical disabilities.
You may want to do some research to find out what kind of private transport services are available in the area where your mom or dad lives.
Transportation for medical appointments
Your parent may also want to consider specific transportation for medical visits, which is used for getting to and from doctor’s offices, hospitals, or other healthcare facilities. It’s more reliable than public transportation when being on time really matters.
In some cases, long-term care insurance may include coverage for medical visit transportation services. Your mom or dad may want to check their policy to see what kind of transportation methods are covered.
Even if your parent’s insurance doesn’t cover medical transportation services, you can explore low-cost options that might be available to provide non-emergency transportation for seniors.
Remember: If your mom or dad lives in an assisted living facility, a nursing home, or some other kind of care facility, transportation to medical appointments and doctor’s visits may be provided by the facility itself. Or, the facility may contract a local area agency to provide senior transportation. Check the facility’s policies so you know for sure.
Assessing a transportation service
Figuring out transportation for seniors may require a bit of digging to find the safest and most convenient and reliable arrangement. Of course, your mom or dad will need to determine which option they may want to use.
When discussing methods of senior transportation with your parent, consider these points:
- What is the cost of the service? Does insurance cover any of the costs?
- What geographical area does the transportation program cover?
- Are there specific requirements to quality for using the transit system?
- Is the service door-to-door? Or does the individual have to make their own way to the pick-up area?
- Can family members serve as escorts on the transit system?
- Will the driver or other staff assist with bags and wheelchairs if necessary?
- Is transportation provided on weekends and holidays?
Talking over these points with your mom or dad will help them make the best decision for their own transportation needs as they age.
Choosing safe, reliable transportation for seniors
Whether your parent is going to a doctor’s appointment, the grocery store, or to a friend’s home, they should be able to do so safely with dignity and convenience. However, driving may not always be an option.
Work together with your parent to help them determine what type of transportation could work for them. The good news is that they’re not alone and there are choices. Even if Mom or Dad doesn’t want to give up driving, it’s important that they know there are other options out there that can help them maintain a level of independence and freedom.
Have you had experience helping your mom or dad choose an alternative mode of transportation? Tell us about it. We want to hear more from you.