Seniors may find it difficult to travel independently, especially if they have medical issues that require special attention. Nevertheless, there are many ways for them to get around -- locally, nationally or internationally -- using various transportation options.
When health, physical limitations, family pressure or personal fears prevent older individuals from driving, alternative ways of getting around town can include relying on friends and family, public transit programs, para-transit programs (curb-to-curb transit for people with disabilities and/or seniors), volunteer services and senior shuttles. In addition, for local travel a number of communities offer taxi voucher programs for older individuals.
Using Local Taxi Voucher Programs
These programs allow individuals to use taxi services at a reduced rate, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. While taxi voucher programs differ greatly among communities, various eligibility requirements include: age, area of residence, income, reason for the ride (medical or non-medical), destination of the ride (within or outside of city limits) and whether or not the person in need owns a car.
For example, in Arlington County, Va., the Super Senior Taxi program allows residents age 70 and over to purchase books of taxi vouchers worth $20 for only $10 each. The vouchers can then be used with a few specified taxi companies for both the fare and the driver's tip. To find out if your community has a taxi voucher program:
- Contact your area agency on aging, which will know if your community has a taxi voucher program.
- Visit the eldercare locator, a free public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, and administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
- Call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for help with local information.
Traveling by Air
Special provisions must often be made for air travel safety when seniors have major mobility and medical issues. What do you do when your father, who has emphysema and requires oxygen, needs to fly to Paris? Or, what's the best way to move your ailing grandparent, who might be wheelchair-bound, from Florida to a care facility near you -- and you live hundreds of miles away?
Fortunately, options for non-emergency transport of non-ambulatory individuals with chronic medical conditions exist. Most even allow family members to accompany their loved ones on the ride. But as costs can run into the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, make sure to check with your insurance company to see if these services are covered. Look into resources like:
- Oxygen for air travel: People who need oxygen during air travel should be sure to have a prescription from their physician for the equipment needed, as well as the batteries needed to support the oxygen device. It's crucial to plan ahead and check with your airline to confirm that the type of oxygen device you require (the portable oxygen concentrator) is allowed by the airline. For more information about air travel with portable oxygen, visit Home Oxygen for air travel.
- Air ambulance: This is a highly specialized service for individuals who need extensive life support in order to be moved from one location to another, and is not for general travel purposes due to extremely high cost. However, if you do need such a service, use these sites to help familiarize yourself with the cost, details, and options. Keep in mind that you will want to speak to your health insurance representative about whether or not any cost coverage is provided.
- For more information, check out the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport System
Exploring Long Distance Ground Transportation
Medical vehicles or coaches range in size; they allow for nonstop travel by offering a bed, kitchen, and bathroom. Medical personnel accompany the individual, but many coaches require that their client be medically stable and not on a ventilator. Check the web for ground transportation options in your city or town.
Getting a Medical Escort
Trained personnel can accompany individuals who cannot travel alone due to health reasons. For example, an individual who rides in a wheelchair but is able to stand might be capable of traveling on a commercial airline or train with a medical escort. Companies providing this service will take care of the travel details. This type of service is much less expensive than using an air ambulance or medical coach. Check your local hospitals for medical escort resources.
Bringing a Wheelchair
People riding in wheelchairs with few medical issues may be capable of traveling alone. They can contact the airline, bus or train company, in advance of travel, about their needs and request special assistance.
Deborah Elbaum is a physician who lives with her family in Massachusetts.