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Maintaining Mobility in an Aging Population

Transportation is the vital link between home and community. It connects individuals of all ages to the places where they can fulfill their most basic needs.

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in  "Home and Community-Based Services for Older Adults: Transportation"

Older Americans have a love affair with the automobile, a feeling that is closely tied to deeply held values of autonomy and independence. According to AARP, eighty-nine percent of older adults travel in private vehicles. This group does not easily give up cars for public transportation. These behaviors can affect their mobility as they age and, therefore, their ability to socialize with friends and family, to meet their physical needs, and to take part in activities that make their lives meaningful.

As people age, a number of factors can threaten mobility, including impaired ability to drive, limited availability of alternative forms of transportation and unwillingness to be dependent upon others. Adding to the issue, nearly 80% of older adults live in suburban and rural areas where public transportation is limited and walking to destinations is not feasible.

Being a nondriver can be a risk factor for isolation. AARP's national study indicates that half of all nondrivers age 65 or over stay at home on any given day, missing opportunities for social interaction or community involvement. Good transportation options are crucial to the ability of people to age in place, in their homes and in their communities.

Communities need to address two major issues:

  • How to help older people continue to drive safely later in their lives
  • How to provide access to alternative forms of transportation that meet the needs of an aging population

By 2030, 25% of licensed drivers in the United States will be over the age of 65 (The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging). Many older drivers retain their ability to drive safely, but some experience cognitive and physical loss due to aging or as a side effect of medications. Extending the ability of older drivers to drive safely can have positive effects on the individual and on the community.

Communities can take a number of steps to help people drive safely longer. Education and driver training that takes into account the special needs of older drivers can help. AARP recommends graduated driving licenses that are tailored to an individual's abilities. Modifications to roadways, signage and vehicles can make it easier for drivers with some impairment to drive safely.

In a recent article titled, "The Coming Boom in Boomer-Friendly Transport," Business Week reports that automakers are addressing some of these issues by making cars that are easy to get in and out of, have thicker steering wheels for arthritic hands and have clearly marked buttons and knobs on dashboards.

For those who cannot or choose not to drive, communities need to provide a variety of viable transportation options that are safe, affordable and convenient. According to n4a some options include:

  • Sidewalks with resting places for pedestrians
  • Improved quality and variety in public transportation
  • A network of volunteer drivers that provide on-demand transportation
  • Point-to-point transport

In an age of increased environmental awareness, many communities are pursuing energy efficient alternatives to transportation needs. One way community planners are addressing the issue is to create multi-use developments in which people live within walking distance of shops, services and entertainment, and therefore, reduce dependence upon vehicles for transportation. A side advantage of the walking could be a healthier population.

We are all responsible for making sure our communities have the transportation options we need to remain mobile throughout our lives. Many communities are finding that engaging citizens in transportation planning is an excellent way to enhance civic life and lay the groundwork for more successful solutions.

For more information about transportation issues, visit the following links:

How Transportation and Community Partnerships are Shaping America, www.pps.org/pdf/book2.pdf

Moving Communities Forward: How Well-Designed Transportation Projects Make Great Places, www.movingcommunitiesforward.org

Communities for a Lifetime:Transportation, www.communitiesforalifetime.org/comm_trans.php

Promising Approaches for Promoting Lifelong Community Mobility, aarpvolunteers.com/dsp/Promising_FINAL.pdf

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