Recent advances in transportation technology may help make hazardous driving a thing of the past. Ride-sharing smartphone-based services like Lift and Uber have developed a streamlined system to request a low-cost ride conveniently. While at the same time these ride-sharing services and car manufacturers are working to develop the next self-driving or autonomous vehicle technology.
These two technological trends can potentially offer a much safer and convenient transportation option for seniors and their caregivers. However, both technologies are a significant departure, self-driving cars in particular, from how you would imagine your next routine drive to the doctor’s office. To this technological concern and overcome worry, new senior-focused initiatives will aid both caregivers and seniors bridge this gap and step into the safe and independent driving future.
The Mobility Gap
Mobility and independence are typically the largest challenges to older Americans. Many times driving during the night, certain busy times of the day, or longer distances may become challenging and dangerous. This obstacle leads to seniors seeking alternatives such as public transportation or arranging a ride with a caregiver.
At this time 16 million people over the age of 65 currently live in communities where public transportation is nonexistent or inadequate. We must prepare for the incredible growth in the number of Americans over the age of 70 by 22.8 million in 2030. This remarkable increase is up from 30.9 million in 2014 to 53.7 million Americans over 70 in 2030.
Unfortunately, smaller or rural communities do not have the resources to reasonably coordinate convenient public transportation. This growth in baby boomers and the number of that population expected to remain outside of urban centers will demand technological development.
Joseph Coughlin, Director of the MIT's Institute for Technology AgeLab:
“The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society,”
MIT's AgeLab found that 70 percent of Americans over the age of 50 live in the suburbs. This percentage is expected to remain the same even as the number of those Americans over 50 expands. With this growing population of suburban seniors and 92 percent of older Americans wishing to age in place, there is an opportunity for a reasonable and affordable solution.
There is also a population of so called "elder orphans" or those without family available to address their caregiving needs, such as driving. More than 1 in 5 Americans older 65 may potentially join this group and 23 percent of baby boomers.
It isn’t surprising that this significant and growing population will soon find that being unable to safely drive as a primary reason for moving from their suburban home into assisted living. Hopefully, these technological initiatives will provide assistance to seniors overcoming our current mobility gap.
Autonomous or Semi-autonomous Vehicles
Catching a ride with an advanced robot to the grocery store sounds like something out of the future. This advanced system would allow their caregiver or their loved one to stay behind at home. Car manufacturers will have developed the necessary technology self-driving technology within the next five to ten years. The self-driving or autonomous vehicles will change transportation and change aging adult's independence.
In a perfect world, those that have trouble driving at night would have the chance to travel to a dinner and then a movie by themselves. But, of course, the idea of getting into a moving car controlled by a computer seems rather odd and frightening to even the most tech-savvy millennial, let alone someone that has driven a car for sixty years. Hopefully, as the self-driving tech becomes gradually accepted and common place seniors will be much more comfortable with the concept and use it to stay mobile while aging in place outside of cities.
Before this transition occurs, seniors should become comfortable with semi-autonomous vehicle technology. The semi-autonomous vehicle technology covers a broad range of added safety features. They can include a system to allow the driver to override the car's self-driving system before an impending accident. And at the other end of the range additional safety features (many which are currently available) to assist drivers changing lanes, stopping, and parking. All with the goal of gradual progress towards seniors and their caregivers having the option to stay independent and to stay in their home in the suburbs a little while longer.
Uber, Lyft and the Ride-Sharing Economy
Millions of passengers around the world use ride-sharing smartphone applications for their routine drives every day. Uber, Lyft, and many others offer a convenient and many times reasonable priced ride. These ride-sharing options do have a few hurdles that seniors and the caregivers must overcome. First less than one-third of those over the age of sixty-five own a smartphone. These services provide computer-based systems, but it can be somewhat confusing. Thankfully, these services have partnered with senior caregiving providers to make it accessible to those without smart phones or are less technologically inclined.
GreatCall, the manufacturer of the Jitterbug, recently completed a deal with Lyft. Using their Jitterbug phone, one would only need to press 0 to speak with a live, operator to coordinate booking their ride.
While a new service, GoGoGrandparent allows family members and caregivers to coordinate Uber trips for their loved ones remotely. Their phone based system gives one access to Uber without the App gives family members text updates about their progress. Available in all 50 states, GoGoGrandparent plans on including access to other app-based services (instant for groceries, postmates for food deliveries) via their helpful operators.
The second issue seniors must overcome the ride-sharing vehicle's accessibility. It's hard to ensure that the car or driver requested would be able to offer assistance. Uber has developed a few initiatives. UberWAV arranges for a wheelchair accessible vehicle with a ramp or hydraulic lift. UberASSIST ensures drivers can help their passenger into and out of the car.
Both UberWAV and UberAssist programs are still more public relations initiatives with insufficient availability. But, hopefully, Uber and Lyft's new collaborations with Senior caregiving providers will lead to increase the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles and drivers that can lend a hand.
Car Mobility Aids
Outside of challenges operating the car getting into and out of the car can also present its problem. Many times recovering from a procedure or anyone with limited mobility entering and exiting your vehicle should not restrict your independence. Stander has devised a line of easy to use car aids.
The HandyBar Car Mobility Aid helps you enter and exit the vehicle by attaching itself into the door frame's u-shaped striker. Once attached, the HandyBar gives support during the transfer into or out of your car. For additional comfort, there is Stander's Automobility Solution. This package includes the HandyBar with a soft, flexible swivel seat cushion.
On the other side of the car's opening, the Stander Car Caddie can offer a study grip pulling them up to a higher vehicle. The Car Caddie's adjustable design made from a durable nylon and can be easily installed in any framed car window
Age In Place: Easier & Safer
With these transportation innovations and potentially world-changing technologies of the near future, one's driving ability will no longer correlate with safety and mobility. Caregivers and patients can focus on their interests, family, and wellbeing rather than on how to manage routine errands. While remaining in place, in their own home, on their schedule.