Ask the Caregiving Expert

Driving and Being Driven: Tips for Caregivers

An expert in older-driver safety and mobility, Elinor Ginzler addresses questions about transporting loved ones

Q: My mother can't drive herself anymore. How do I find help with her transportation needs?

A: The decision to stop driving is one of the hardest decisions anyone will ever face. Driving is a symbol of independence. It can mean the difference between staying engaged or being stuck at home. So when driving is no longer safe, it is important to find other transportation options to keep your mother involved with outside activities. The Eldercare Locator (800-877-1116 or eldercare.gov) is a toll-free and Web-based information and referral service that links people to aging services in their community. Ask about senior transportation services, volunteer driver organizations and programs to help seniors learn to use public transportation. If your mom sells her car, she can use the money for a "transportation account" to cover the cost of taxis and other car services.

Driving options for caregivers and their loved ones

It's important to find transportation options to keep loved ones involved with outside activities. — Felix Kästle/Corbis

Q: I am about to move in with my 92-year-old uncle. He is still driving, and that really scares me. Any tips on getting him to give it up? I will be able to drive him, but I know it will be hard for him to give up his independence.

A: It is hard to give up the autonomy that comes with being able to drive. When it comes to safe driving, it is all about ability, not age. First, assess his driving skills. Take a ride with him and look for warning signs such as having trouble turning around to see while backing up, becoming easily distracted, hitting curbs, failing to notice traffic signs or having trouble navigating intersections.

If you notice these problems, it's time to have the conversation about giving up his license. Here are some ways to get started:

Focus on safety — for the driver and those around him. Acknowledge that driving these days is very different than when he first began and the travel environment has changed a lot, too.

Bring up a news story about an accident. Ask how he thinks about unsafe drivers on the road and see how he reacts.

Be direct and honest with him, citing real examples, such as witnessing his running a stop sign when you were in the car.

Finally, kudos to you for being willing to address this concern and become the driver. Your uncle will be able to stay engaged and get where he needs and wants to go — a critical element for the high quality of life we all want.

Q: I'm in a wheelchair, but I need help with transportation to go places, such as the senior center to play bingo. I have had an aide, but she cannot do this anymore. How can I find a driver (I'm willing to pay) or someone that can go on the bus with me?

A: It is so important to stay connected to the world as we get older, even if we have mobility challenges — so I am delighted to hear that you want to continue to get out and about. Many communities have private driving services that offer accessible transportation for a fee. Since you need some assistance, the service you are looking for is called "escorted transportation." You'll get door-through-door service — not just door-to-door or curb-to-curb service. Escorted transportation will help you get out of your home, into a vehicle and into your destination, such as the senior center or any other place you wish to go. To find this kind of service, call your local aging office, which will offer information and referrals. For the nearest aging office, try the Eldercare Locator (800-877-1116 or eldercare.gov). If you're lucky, your community has a specialized mobility referral program, and your aging office will direct you there.

Q: We need to move my mom, who has dementia and is in a wheelchair, from one assisted living facility to another facility near our new home, about 170 miles away. We are not comfortable transporting her in our car. Are there any companies that specialize in transporting elderly people from one city to another?

A: There are specialized transportation services that will provide transportation for your mother, but get ready to pay for this service. It might cost you as much as $40 an hour or more for the ride, plus extra for the extended length of the trip. Unless she can transfer from her wheelchair to the seat of the car, there will be an extra expense to get an accessible vehicle so that she can remain in her wheelchair. I would strongly recommend that she have an escort she knows and with whom she feels comfortable accompany her on this trip. It can be hard for people with dementia to manage a long ride to an unknown destination. Rather than just finding a transportation service online, go with a recommendation. Speak with the staff at both the assisted living residence she is in now and the one to which she will be moving for suggestions on driving services. Also check with your local aging office's information and referral service for companies or mobility options programs in the area. Good luck with the move.

Elinor Ginzler, a member of the AARP Caregiving Advisory Panel, is senior director of the Center for Supportive Services at the Jewish Council for the Aging. She is also coauthor of Caring for Your Parents — The Complete Family Guide.

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