Seniors need to get aroundPublished 1:19pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Community mobility for older adults is becoming more of a concern for the public as the number of Americans aged 65 and older continues to grow. According to the 2010 United States Census, nearly 40.2 million Americans are aged 65 or older. That is roughly 13 percent of the American population, and that number is expected to more than double by 2050. As a society, it is important that we are aware of the issues surrounding older adult driving and community mobility, and it is also important that we know our community’s resources to be of assistance to ourselves and others.
In the United States, owning and operating a personal vehicle is the primary means of transportation for many Americans including older adults. Unfortunately, many older Americans will need to limit or stop driving due to declines in functions necessary for safe driving. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration have all been linked to reduced driving safety. In addition, medications and natural declines due to aging, such as decreased reaction time, muscular strength and endurance, can all affect driving skills and safety.
Limiting driving and driving cessation are often very difficult and emotionally charged transitions. Several studies have shown how essential driving is to personal self-worth and self-esteem for many older adults. A study conducted by Brenda Vrkljan and Jan Polgar of McMaster University in 2007 examined older adults’ perception on driving and driving cessation. The study found that many older adults linked driving with independence and their identity. Cessation of driving often left elders to feel lost and uncertain of their future, especially when alternative forms of transportation were limited. It is important to note that when an older adult can no longer drive, their daily routines are greatly affected. Often times, older adults can become isolated from their communities if adequate alternative forms of transportation are not available.
Adequate alternative forms of transportation are essential; however, current transportation systems at the national and state level pose many problems for older adults. In Sandra Rosenbloom’s article, “The Mobility Needs of Older Americans: Implications for Transportation and Reauthorization,” she discusses how the current transportation systems in the United States do not adequately meet the needs of seniors. In addition, she points out that many transportation systems are inaccessible to elders and do not serve elders in rural or suburban communities. The Minnesota Department of Transportation states that several counties in rural Minnesota do not provide public transportation options for those living outside of city limits or simply do not have a public transportation system at all.
At the local level, Freeborn County provides resources to address the mobility needs of its aging population through programs such as Albert Lea Transit, Senior Resources (Ride Services) and R&S Transport. If you or someone you know is in need of community resources, further information may be available from Senior Resources at 507-377-7433 or the Senior Linkage Line at 800-333-2433.