Many senior citizens continue to lead active lives, but they aren’t always able to drive themselves to participate in social activities, run errands or attend medical appointments. Nearly 90% of older adults are choosing to remain in their homes as they age, making transportation more than a critical resource for independent living. It’s a growing need among an aging population.
Family caregivers providing transportation is extremely common. About 8.4 million senior citizens rely on family to help them get around. Since it can be difficult to know when you can no longer drive, some elderly individuals in physical or mental decline lean on relatives to delay giving up driving entirely. For example, seniors might still drive in and around their own neighborhoods while relying on family to ferry them to appointments that require hitting the highway.
Negative Health Impacts for Seniors Who Don’t Drive
According to a report published by AAA, seniors who are forced to give up driving tend to experience an array of negative health effects. These problems can be both physical and mental. The following are some of the key findings from the review:
- Physical health problems: Former drivers participated in fewer outdoor activities and had lower productivity in daily life. They also showed reduced physical functioning.
- Depressive symptoms: Non-driving older adults had a doubled risk of depressive symptoms.
- Social health problems: One study found a 51% reduction in social network size over a 13-year period.
- Cognitive decline: Former drivers showed accelerated cognitive decline over a 10-year period.
- Need for long-term care (LTC): One study showed five times the rate of admission to LTCs for former drivers.
- Increased mortality risk: Several studies indicated a four to six times higher mortality risk for non-drivers.
If an elderly person is truly no longer able to operate a motor vehicle, exploring other ways of getting around is a necessary step to reduce these risks. Fortunately, there are many senior transportation services available.
Call a Caregiver or Senior Companion Service
Close family members frequently take on the role of caregiver as loved ones age. While older individuals have a diverse set of needs, transportation tends to be a common one. Using a service to find a professional caregiver is an option when relatives lack the time, proximity or skills to handle elderly transportation.
These services are great options for finding a caregiver:
- Mon Ami: Mon Ami Activity Companions pick up and transport seniors to doctor’s appointments, outings, errands and other locations using their own insured vehicles. Senior companions add a personal touch by assisting with carrying groceries, navigating medical buildings and other tasks. Every companion driver is background-checked. A companion’s time is compensated at $25 per hour, and driving round trips costs an additional $0.75 per mile.
- Envoy: Envoy’s family concierge service helps with transportation, grocery shopping and household duties. Membership costs $19 a month, and the rate for care services ranges from $12-$30 per hour with one-hour minimums.
- Care.com: Care.com is an online family care platform that helps you find, manage and pay for service providers. Caregivers are presented in a list of profiles, which includes their rate, age, years of experience, customer ratings and a brief introduction. Rates vary by location and provider.
- CareLinx: CareLinx is a professional caregiver network that stresses the quality of its providers and a cost savings of up to 50% compared to traditional agencies. Based on their needs, users choose a background-checked caregiver to provide in-home care. Service can be managed through the CareLinx smartphone app.
The option to hire a caregiver through an app or website benefits both seniors and their close kin. Families can manage payments and service details for their loved one, giving them freedom of mobility without adding extra hassles to daily life.
Ride Sharing for Seniors
Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are a popular method of transportation. They’re quick and widely available, and most have affordable rates. But many seniors aren’t able to enjoy these benefits because ride sharing relies heavily on smartphone applications. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found smartphone ownership among those 65 years of age or older at 30%, which lags behind the rest of the population. There’s also the issue of seniors who own phones but aren’t tech savvy or refuse to learn new skills. Luckily, the two major ride sharing companies offer ways to get around this issue.
Uber users can use the app to call a ride for a loved one. When the pickup is set somewhere different from the current location, the user can select the option to send a ride for a family member or friend. Riders don’t even need to have a smartphone to benefit from this feature, although they won’t be able to access details like driver contact info and a tracking link, which are sent via text message.
The Lyft app works in a similar manner. Users can enter another person’s address, pin the location and request a ride. The company advises calling drivers ahead of time to inform them that they’ll be picking up someone else. Standard group rides are also an option if family members want to accompany their loved one.
Some rideshare companies specialize in offering simplified services especially for seniors. GoGoGrandparent helps seniors use Uber or Lyft by calling a service number. Drivers can be sent to a home address, the last drop-off location or a custom location. Family members can also receive by-the-minute updates on their loved one’s status. Seniors who have little to no help from family may benefit most from this type of service. It allows them to be in control with little fuss, whereas ride share apps and caregiver websites can have complex interfaces that feel overwhelming.
Rides to a Doctor’s Appointment
Because routine visits to the doctor are vital for health, seniors who can no longer drive need a consistent way to make every doctor’s appointment. Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services are scheduled rides to and from appointments when an individual has no other means of transportation.
In 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded the list of benefits private insurance companies could cover, allowing Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Part C, to cover some types of NEMT. Taking advantage of this new allowance, Lyft partners with private insurers to provide policy holders with NEMT to doctor’s offices, clinics and other approved locations. Per Lyft’s 2019 Economic Impact Report, 29% of North American riders have used Lyft to access health care services.
For Medicaid beneficiaries, NEMT is also generally covered, but every state’s program varies. Eligibility and service details can be found on the websites of state health departments.
Public Transportation for Seniors
Seniors that live in cities and metro areas that offer bus or subway services can often take advantage of discounted fares. Senior bus fares can range from free to a dollar or two for one-way fare, and many metro areas offer monthly card options for older adults who regularly use public transportation. These cards reduce fare costs even further, potentially driving transportation costs down to pennies a day.
The discount programs vary in each city or region, but most only require presentation of your Medicare card or a valid ID showing you are over the age of 65.
Other Transportation Options for Seniors
Many senior citizens have needs that require extra care or special accommodations. Those with mobility problems may have a difficult time using public transportation, and ride sharing vehicles may be ill-equipped to transport wheelchairs and other equipment. For instance, Lyft has a setting for passengers with accessibility needs, but it’s only available in certain markets.
Seniors that qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opt for paratransit services. The vehicles are typically spacious buses or cabs, and they travel along similar routes to public transportation with the added benefit of home pickups.
Some seniors have non-medical concerns that impact quality of life. Travel to the grocery store, for example, contributes to well-being. But these trips can be expensive even with senior discounts. Fortunately, independent organizations in many areas offer low-cost, non-medical transportation to the elderly. An Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) can provide information about these services. Use the US Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator to find contact information for a local ARDC.
Independent Living Is Still Possible
Independence is a crucial part of remaining active while aging. The damaging effects of a sedentary life are more serious than just a loss of freedom, and adjusting to not being behind the wheel after decades of driving can be intimidating and demoralizing for both the individual and family members.
Although losing the ability to drive may feel limiting, senior citizens have options to choose from to continue living productive, fulfilling lives. Personal caregiver, ride sharing, and public transportation services are great ways to get around at an older age.