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Time to hide the car keys: Transportation for seniors

by Maryalene LaPonsie

Of all the issues facing adult children, one of the most difficult may be to get mom or dad to give up the car keys. Elderly parents who are otherwise cooperative may be resistant to losing what they perceive as not only their ability to drive but also their independence. According to aging experts, seniors have good reason to be wary of losing their driving privileges.

"It is very isolating to be in your home and not be able to go where you want to go," said Angela Moloney, sales associate for Porter Hills Retirement Communities and Services in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Adult children may be able to dampen that isolation by knowing exactly what options are available in their area for transportation for seniors.

Taking away the keys

However, before using other transportation sources, some elderly parents may need to be convinced to stop driving first. Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C and founder of Jenerations Health Education, an education and consulting firm for geriatric issues, says driving skills should be evaluated for even the healthiest of seniors.

"Everything in our body changes as we get older," said FitzPatrick. "Even a parent in perfect health will have some decrease in vision, hearing and reflexes."

For a parent who is not ready to give up driving immediately, both FitzPatrick and Moloney say there can be interim steps to help ease the transition. Elderly parents may be agreeable to limiting their driving to only during daylight hours or staying on familiar roads. Sometimes, parents may be convinced by reminding them that even if they are an excellent driver, they may not have the reflexes to react to other drivers' mistakes.

When a senior is a safety threat to both themselves and others on the road, adult children may want to take the step of notifying their parents' physician or the state motor vehicle office.

Other transportation for seniors

An elderly parent may likely be more apt to stop driving if they know there are other options available for transportation. While public transportation such as buses, subways and taxis may work for some individuals, caregivers should be sure their loved one can easily navigate the system without becoming lost or confused.

Another option available in many communities are dial-a-ride programs. Seniors call and schedule an appointment for transportation to a specific location at a specific time. These transportation services may be offered by either by public or private agencies. For example, Porter Hills offers a Sunshine Transportation service in which CPR and first aid certified drivers take seniors on errands or to appointments. Drivers can then wait until the senior is ready to return home and may also provide additional services such as unloading luggage and escorting a senior into the airport.

FitzPatrick recommends Partners in Care as another option for transportation for seniors. Although not available nationwide, the organization offers an innovative and low cost transportation solution. Seniors or their caregivers can volunteer for charitable projects and then 'bank' their volunteer time. That banked time can then be used for transportation services among other things.

Beyond private transportation options, a number of government offices including Area Agencies on Aging, human services departments and health departments may offer transportation for eligible seniors. To find local resources, caregivers can search the online Eldercare Locator maintained by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.