How prepared is your community to help people get around who don’t drive?
The answer for many of us is “not very” or “not at all.” It’s time for communities to get going, though, because the Silver Tsunami is coming. The first of the baby boomers already began turning 65 last year. By 2025, 18 percent of all Americans will be over age 65, and 12 million of them will no longer drive.
Planning for driving retirement is a personal need as well. When people think of where to retire from work, their thoughts may drift to sunnier climes, lower-taxation states, or perhaps wherever the grandchildren live. However, they often neglect to consider how they would get from their house to the doctor or the grocery store if driving were not an option.
In many ways, I am typical of my generation in that I live in non-driving denial. I can’t imagine a time I won’t be able to just hop in my car and go. I exercise! I eat right (mostly)! I do crossword puzzles to keep my brain sharp! Of course I’m going to keep on driving! It’s this kind of thinking that can leave a retiree stranded without options in their dream home several years down the line.
Driving can mean so many things to us – personal freedom, independence, pride, and more. Joseph Coughlin, Director of MIT AgeLab, puts it in terms of an ice cream cone. When the mood strikes you, you want to go get it, when you want, and where you want. So how in the heck could you have called dial-a-ride for it, 24 hours in advance?
Giving up the keys can initiate a slide into depression and isolation. A great resource for caregivers to start a positive, forward-looking conversation – while mom or dad is still in the driver seat – is called We Need to Talk. This brochure was developed by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab to help each side understand the other, and to openly discuss post-car life and mobility options or lack thereof. It provides many tips, including a checklist of warning signs to objectively determine whether a loved one’s driving is truly of concern.
In reality, everyone of all ages should create a mobility backup plan. How would you get to work, or get the kids to school, if the car breaks down? If you break your right leg? If you start medications that make you drowsy? Walking, biking, car rentals, Zip cars, transit, taxis, family, friends and neighbors … Your answers will vary greatly depending on your health, where you live, your available funds, and other circumstances.
In the next few posts, I will take a look at how older adults are taking advantage of transportation choices to remain mobile and independent, plus some innovative programs and communities that help make this happen.
Lori Cohen writes the Mobility Lab column “Here and Here to Stay” on quality-of-life issues for seniors. This topic has a crucial connection to mobility management, and Lori has a knowledgeable perspective, having worked for such organizations as AARP and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.