Many seniors who want to go places and do things that most people consider routine might say that. Transportation challenges – from simple availability to special needs – can make it difficult to shop, attend events or make appointments. The ability to reliability get from one place to another when needed is essential for everyone.
“To me, transportation and the larger sense of community mobility is a critical issue that we as gerontologists need to be concerned about because it impacts everything,” said Nina Silverstein, a professor at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.
“You can have the best programs and services in the world but if you can’t get to them or they can’t get to you, it’s really not going to help you too much,” she said.
Silverstein and co-author Helen Kerschner wrote Introduction to Senior Transportation, a recently published textbook on the subject. The authors also teach a course by the same name, which is offered to master’s students in the Management of Aging Services program. A continuing education course is offered each fall for professionals in transportation and aging services with registration beginning in July.
Silverstein began to focus on transportation issues in the late 1990s while she was studying Alzheimer’s and wandering behavior. People were getting lost driving.
She said a 2002 study by Dan Foley and co-authors later provided an “ah-ha” moment. It examined the fact that life expectancy typically exceeds driving expectancy – by about six years for men and about a decade for women.
“So we all should be planning for a time when we’re not driving,” said Silverstein, who is a member of the Transportation Research Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Safe Mobility of Older Persons.
But there isn’t any single transportation solution that works for everyone or in every place. Challenges helping get seniors around rural areas can involve sheer distance. Silverstein and her students once studied older people living comfortably on Boston’s Beacon Hill, just a few blocks from Massachusetts General Hospital. Still, those individuals with mobility impairments couldn’t get to the hospital on their own.
Of course, public transportation is a useful option for many elders. Private transportation options like Uber and other services available at the touch of a smart phone offer solutions to some others, especially younger seniors who are physically and cognitively able to move about with ease.
But transportation can become more complicated when the impairment of critical skills that keeps some seniors from driving is the same reason they are unable to hop on a bus. Matching the right level of assistance with passengers while maintaining a level of service convenience can be a challenge. In many cities and towns, it’s a work in progress.
“This is totally consistent with and acknowledged by the age-friendly community and dementia-friendly community efforts,” said Silverstein. “But it’s a piece that needs to be further developed.”