Getting There: Agency seeks smoother ride for seniors
None of us is getting any younger. So we should all start to think about the challenges seniors face to get someplace.
That’s one of the top priorities of the Southwest Connecticut Agency on Aging (SWCAA). In order to maintain an independent life, seniors need to get from their homes to doctors appointments, social engagements and even volunteer work. Their caregivers also need to get to their clients’ homes.
Twenty percent of residents in the SWCAA region — which spans from Greenwich to Stratford — are over 60 years old. That segment of the population is expected to grow to 25 percent by 2020. With aging comes issues of vision and cognition, especially behind the wheel.
Giving up your car is a much-feared rite of passage for seniors, usually prompted by coaxing from their children who start noticing dented fenders. The DMV has no mandatory retirement age for driving, though if you accumulate enough points on your license you may be required to take a re-test.
Most seniors are smart enough to avoid driving on the highways and they don’t like being on the road at night. But during the daytime, they often drive to the doctors or pick up their grandchildren at school.
But what happens when seniors lose their cars? They become isolated, sometimes going days without social interaction, provoking depression and even accelerating dementia.
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That’s why SWCAA is conducting a regional assessment of all our municipalities to identify alternatives for seniors. In cities like Stamford and Bridgeport, there is public transportation. But that option isn’t available to seniors in rural towns like Monroe and Weston.
Most communities have some sort of ADA transportation, but that’s only for those with a proven disability. The federally mandated transportation only offers seniors a 30-minute window for pickups, often causing them to stand outside in the cold to wait for their ride.
Even in communities with bus service, it could be difficult for seniors to walk long distances to the bus stop or walk home carrying groceries.
Church groups sometimes organize driver volunteers. More affluent towns have nonprofits that specialize in assisting their residents with aging issues, including transportation.
Another attractive alternative are services like Uber and Lyft, which whisk you door to door on demand. But even these services have problems: they’re not cheap and not accessible if you don’t know how to use a smartphone app.
SWCAA hopes a special “senior version” of Lyft and Uber can be developed where seniors call a dispatcher to book a ride and handle payments.
Self-driving cars may soon be on our streets, but we’ll see if seniors feel comfortable with that sort of tech.
Whatever the alternative, transportation is essential to keeping our seniors active and engaged.
Jim Cameron is a longtime commuter advocate based in Fairfield County. Contact him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com