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Transportation plans help seniors stay active, healthy
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Safety concerns can put the brakes on driving for senior adults, but families with a transportation plan can help their loved ones maintain happy and healthy lifestyles.
"While seniors may not be able or willing to drive, they still need access to transportation for medical appointments, social engagements and trips to the grocery," said Brooke Knight, Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Jones County. "Having transportation keeps them connected to people and activities they know and enjoy. These connections are beneficial for their mental, physical and emotional well-being."
In many parts of Mississippi, public transportation is limited or nonexistent, so it is important for seniors to have a plan for getting around when they stop driving. Many times, family members will take turns getting their loved one to their desired locations. Other times, seniors have friends who still drive, and they can carpool with them. Two or more friends often plan regular trips to the local grocery store and other necessary places, Knight said.
"In some larger cities, there are local transportation companies that can be useful," she said. "In Laurel, we have DJ Transit, which runs buses and accessible vans for patrons of all physical abilities to pay a small fee to ride. They operate on-demand and scheduled services."
David Buys, Extension health specialist, said that although technology-based transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, are beginning to become available in smaller communities, trips are often expensive, especially if someone needs to travel a great distance.
"One sad thing we sometimes see is family members charging other family members for trips to the doctor or grocery store," Buys said. "It is understandable to ask folks we're helping to cover the costs of the trip, but it is not usually acceptable to charge them unreasonable fees for assistance. So, it's important for us to find better ways at the community level to help with transportation barriers."
When it makes sense, citizens should advocate for policies that support public transportation. Individuals who see a need can think about organizing services through private or nonprofit entities, Buys said.
"Many churches have vans that they use for group trips for youth or older adults, but they may otherwise sit unused," he said. "Perhaps faith communities with these kinds of assets can work together to provide transportation on an occasional basis. Also, individuals can offer transportation informally, organizing trips to health care providers or other places seniors need to routinely visit."
If individuals or groups are interested in organizing a system for regular transportation in the community, Knight suggests visiting places where seniors frequently go – such as medical offices, grocery stores, and community centers – to find out what transportation issues they have encountered.
"Ask them what needs are not being met for their patients and patrons. See how people are currently getting to their appointments, to classes or to stores," Knight said. "Really target the needs of the community so you can meet needs and not just perform a taxi service. Once you know what is needed, you can recruit volunteers through churches, service organizations, junior auxiliary groups, local community leaders and others."
The local Extension office is a good place to start to get assistance and support.
"While Extension doesn't have a specific program to address transportation issues, agents can certainly use their contacts within the community to assist others in starting these types of services or bring awareness to the issue," she said. "That's what we do. We try to meet the needs of our community as best we can in a way that has the greatest positive impact."