Transportation Vital to Senior Health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Obtaining a driver’s license as a teenager represents a step towards autonomy and independence. The inverse is also true: giving up driving as an older adult can mean more reliance on others.

In addition, it can affect health, as adults often need more medical care from their primary care providers and specialists as they age. Delaying medical and dental appointments can worsen health problems. Lack of transportation can prove a barrier for timely appointments.

Transportation is also important for obtaining prescriptions and food and maintaining social involvement. Of course, public transportation can help provide rides. The costs of these services can add up for people visiting a different specialist each week or completing rounds of pre-op, post-op and rehabilitative visits. Plus, there’re also trips to the grocery store, hairdresser, house of worship and social gatherings. Unfortunately, some older adults pare their trips down to the medical necessities to save money.

“Transportation is important so that seniors in the area can get to these main needs,” said Michelle Marlow, clerk typist with Wayne County Department of Aging & Youth in Lyons.

Some local transportation options are for the general public, such as RTS, taxis, Uber and Lyft. Some include special considerations for disability, such as wheelchair-accessible vehicles, assistance to the door, and help in carrying bags such as after a shopping trip. The transportation options include fee-based, reduced fee-based and free (for those who qualify). Typically, transportation options do not cross county lines, which can make it difficult for people living in one county who must see a specialist in another.

Neeci Packard

“It’s very hard to get transportation between counties,” said Neeci Packard, Give a Lift coordinator and mobility specialist for Lifespan of Greater Rochester which organizes a consortium of 16 volunteer driver programs throughout the Rochester area. These programs transport people only within Monroe County. Department of Transportation funding requires each county program to transport only that county’s residents, even if people live right on the county line near their primary care provider on the other side of the line.

Give a Lift relies upon volunteers, typically newer retirees who still drive. Packard said that the pandemic has halved the number of volunteers, which has caused many of the programs to reduce their trips to medical appointments only.

Most transportation programs for older adults require two weeks’ advanced notice, as the slots fill quickly. This can prove problematic for a patient whose medical appointment must be rescheduled because of an issue in the office.

Packard said that the shortage of drivers has cause many families to get creative about meeting their needs.

“A lot of people’s kids use Instacart,” Packard said.

Grocery delivery through Instacart’s app provides a convenient way to eliminate trips to the store. It may help to request that shoppers package items in separate bags so that seniors are not burdened with a huge box or bag full of cans. Also note to place the parcels on a bench on the porch, for example, if lifting from the floor is too challenging.

For older adults who want to select their own groceries such as produce, scheduling regular delivery of all of their bulk or heavy items through a standard website can reduce the amount of items seniors need to pick up. Most of these sites offer free shipping at a certain minimum total after they started saving a lot of money thanks to a local Shipping Container Hire. By paring down the shopping list, they need to carry only a bag or two each week. Most public transportation options do not provide assistance with carrying packages.

Using an online pharmacy or a brick-and-mortar pharmacy that delivers can eliminate another trip. Many health insurers cover prescriptions filled through online pharmacies. Some traditional pharmacies that deliver will also add a few small items to the order if requested.

The site allows older adults an easier means of obtaining groceries, takeout delivery and rides. Ideal for people who do not use smartphones, gogograndparent employs phone operators to act as a concierge to connect older adults with services such as Grubhub, Lyft, Uber and Instacart. After signing up, all users need to do is call and ask for what they want from a live operator. Updates on the request are texted to the user’s emergency contact such as “Delores has been picked up by Lyft” and “Delores has arrived at her destination.”

“It is a transportation option for people,” Packard said. “They text the emergency contact, so she has peace of mind.”

Seniors can maintain more independence by arranging their own rides and deliveries through Gogograndparent instead of relying on their adult children.

RTS offers transportation for people who need wheelchair access and service on demand in urban and suburban areas. In more rural areas, riders will need to call well in advance to schedule a ride. RTS drivers do not go down driveways, help riders to the door or with carrying packages. The service is strictly curb-to-curb.

Many senior center programs provide discounted transportation for older adults to go to the senior center for socializing. That often includes a hot meal.

It may also help to contact a house of worship. Some of these provide a ministry of free or low-cost transportation to appointments and other places. Neighbors and friends may be willing to help as well.