Discover the Top 5 Transportation Challenges Facing People Over 65
Most people 65 and older prefer living at home. But, when you can no longer drive to the local grocery store or get yourself to and from doctor’s appointments, you may start to question whether your independence is in jeopardy. Not only can it be a hassle to get products or services you need at a moment’s notice, but the inability to drive can have an effect on your mental health, as well.
Medicare Benefits Solutions
May 5, 2022
Senior Transportation Issues
People are living longer, aging in place, and choosing to stay in their community. You can’t underestimate the importance of driving to see friends, visit family and attend social gatherings.
The loss of transportation can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, or anxiety. Losing your ability to independently travel may be due to vision loss, illness, or injury. According to US Aging, “about 600,000 older adults stop driving each year,” but access to adequate, cost-effective transportation can present a major challenge.
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Top Five Transportation Challenges Facing Seniors
Seniors face transportation challenges for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that may affect your ability to get around by yourself.
1. Losing the ability to drive
The Department of Transportation mentions that, among people in the United States with travel-limiting disabilities, 11.2 million, or 43.9%, are 65 or older. And up to 3.6 million of these people report they are housebound and rarely leave their homes.
Many seniors experience vision problems, a natural part of the aging process. For example, cataracts are an eye disorder common to older adults. This condition increases light sensitivity, a driving handicap, especially at night when bright headlights can cause glare or a halo effect. Concerns about reduced response time may also cause you to feel unsafe on the road.
2. Distance/access to public transportation
Public transportation options are not feasible in many suburban and rural areas where you cannot get to the designated pickup and drop-off points along a fixed route. Public transit may also not be conducive to people who use mobility-assisted devices.
A study by AARP found that 53% of people 50 and over don’t have access to public transportation within a 10-minute walk from where they live and 53% say they don’t have a sidewalk in front of their home.
3. Dependency on family and friends
There are more than 8.4 million seniors in the U.S. that depend on other people for their transportation needs. Caregivers and home health aides can drive their clients to the doctor’s office, but what happens when the appointment falls outside of their normally scheduled work hours?
While you are fortunate if you have family and friends to get you to appointments and local events or shopping, you may feel it is burdensome, even if they are happy to help. Or you may not have family nearby and don’t want to impose on friends. It can also be challenging to coordinate schedules.
4. Mobility limitations
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that travel-limited disabilities increase with age. Before age 50 this affects 10% of the U.S. population, increasing to 18.4% by age 70 and to 31.9% by age 80. According to the American Disabilities Act, all vehicles used in public transit must be accessible.
The need for mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair or walker, may hinder driving. Though accessible vans are an option for some people who use a wheelchair, these vehicles are costly and not the right choice for everyone.
5. Living on a fixed income
Owning a car is not cheap. Even if you have an old car long paid off, you still carry the cost of maintenance, repairs and auto insurance, and you must deal with the soaring price of gas.
If you are living on a fixed income, such as Social Security or a pension, the expense of owning a car can make a significant dent in your budget. And, while ride-sharing services are nice, your monthly budget may put a limit on this option.
Top Five Transportation Solutions for Older Adults
Regardless of the reasons you face transportation challenges, there are some solutions you may consider.
1. Home aide or personal driver
Search your community for a personal driver who provides transportation for seniors to medical appointments. You could start with recommendations from neighbors or a nearby senior community center. And, make sure you check their references and licensing before using their services.
Private home health aides with their own transportation may also be willing to serve as your personal driver. However, don’t confuse this with Medicare-covered home health services limited to care inside the home. Original Medicare does not include transportation for seniors to medical appointments.
2. Private car services
If you live in an area serviced by a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, you may benefit from the convenience of being able to book and pay for a ride using your smartphone anytime. Some communities offer a scheduling phone line for shared-ride services to provide more access for older adults and people with disabilities. Uber and Lyft drivers use their own vehicles, not wheelchair vans, and are not prepared to assist riders in entering or exiting the car.
During busy times, ride-booking services cannot guarantee a pickup time. So if you need a ride for a medical appointment, you may want to reserve a private taxi in advance. In that case, ask if the company offers taxi vouchers to seniors and people with disabilities. If you use a wheelchair, ask the scheduler if their fleet includes accessible vehicles.
3. Community transportation
Your community may offer call-and-ride services for non-emergent medical appointments, where you call in advance for a reservation. Some areas have volunteer-run demand-response programs and arrange rides for free to older adults and people with disabilities. To identify resources in your area, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
The American Cancer Society (ACA) has a Road to Recovery ride program meant to serve as a supplementary source of transportation for cancer treatment appointments. The drivers are volunteers, and advance notice is required. If you cannot walk unassisted, you will need a caregiver to accompany you. Call the ACA at 1-800-227-2345 to determine if this free service is available in your area.
4. ADA Paratransit buses
Paratransit is a public shared-ride service, typically buses or vans, for people with disabilities unable to use a fixed-route system. According to the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, “the American and Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public transit agencies that provide fixed-route service to provide ‘complementary paratransit’ service to people with disabilities who cannot use the fixed-route bus or rail service because of a disability.”
The bus/van service should be available to people of all ages who have a disability and may also extend to older adults with or without a disability. The vehicles should have lifts to accommodate wheelchairs. If they offer door-to-door service, they may require that you have an ADA-compliant ramp. If you need help transitioning from your home to the waiting transportation, you will need a companion since organizations generally do not offer door-through-door support.
5. Retirement community
If you’re feeling ready to live in an environment where a car won’t be needed, it may be time to consider moving into a retirement community. Many senior communities include amenities, such as an on-site club with a gym, pool and other recreational activities.
This type of community hub can eliminate the need for transportation for social activities, but many senior living residences offer shuttle services to local stores and medical appointments. You can learn more about senior living options, including assisted living and independent living, from your state’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
Does Medicare Pay for Senior Transportation?
If you have Original Medicare, transportation is limited to ambulance transport for medically necessary services when “transportation in any other vehicle could endanger your health.” In some cases, coverage includes non-emergency situations, conditional upon a written order from your physician. An example is the transfer of a renal dialysis patient to a facility that provides this treatment.
Because Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can extend benefits beyond Original Medicare coverage, MA plans may cover transportation for regular office visits to your health care provider. MA plans vary by the state, type of plan and insurance company, so check your benefits summary to see if transport coverage is included.
If you have Medicaid, ask your local Medicaid agency about Medicaid non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). Contact your local Medicaid office to see if you qualify because this is a state-run program, and eligibility criteria vary from one state to another.