Orlando Sentinel

Seniors giving up car keys find few options to do errands, visit doctors

- By Jessica Inman Staff Writer

Ruth Combs stood on the sidewalk in front of her Orlando home in a pastel belted dress, stud earrings and rimless glasses, awaiting her ride on a recent afternoon. When the cherry-red Toyota Camry pulled up, she got in with ease.

“Since my husband has passed away, ITN has been like my soul mate again, you know?” said Combs, 80.

ITN Orlando is one of a handful of local groups that help shuttle the elderly to doctors appointmen­ts and errands.

Central Florida offers few options for older Americans who are retiring their car keys. For seniors who can no longer drive, the lack of alternativ­es poses myriad health concerns, psychologi­sts say.

“Next to losing their loved one, and for some, even above losing their loved one, losing their ability to drive is the most traumatic event in their life,” said neuropsych­ologist and clinical psychologi­st Jodi De Luca of Boulder County, Colo. “Some have said, ‘My

life might as well be over. I can’t go where I want to go, even for the smallest thing.’ ”

The resulting isolation can be associated with depression, anxiety and a lesser view of self, De Luca said.

“It is a monumental problem,” said Randy Hunt, president and CEO of the Senior Resource Alliance, which connects older adults and their loved ones with resources specific to their needs and is located in Orlando. “We’re so spread out. We’re not like the New York subway or Chicago ‘L.’ ”

ITN Orlando and Lynx are among the choices available to seniors. When calls come in to the alliance, Hunt asks for the caller’s ZIP code. If it falls into the list of those served by ITN, from Altamonte Springs to Oviedo, he refers seniors there first.

Members who join ITN Orlando, a nonprofit organizati­on with a mix of volunteer and paid drivers, create a profile with the company. Annual membership is $60, with mileage rates lower than those of a taxi. They can then call for a ride in advance for anytime — day or night — and will be escorted to and from the vehicle.

Combs, whose husband died in 2013 after 60 years of marriage, said she feels safe with the drivers, who all undergo background checks.

Hunt sends callers who fall out of ITN’s area to Access Lynx, the para-transit alternativ­e to Orlando’s fixed-route bus system, which charges $4 to $7 per ride.

Tim May, manager at Access Lynx, said of the 2,300 passengers the bus system escorts door to door each day, about 25 percent are seniors.

“Access Lynx is good, and there’s not enough of them,” Hunt said. “That’s not their fault. There’s not enough funding to help them.”

Other than relying on family members or neighbors, the remaining pickings are slim.

There are cab companies, but they can be pricey. Adult day-care centers might pick up a client but would likely charge, he said. And Ruth Combs gets help Monday from ITN driver John McCalliste­r before her doctors appointmen­t. “As seniors we can go out to other organizati­ons and volunteer because we have ITN to get us there,” she said. though SunRail is wheelchair­friendly, seniors may have to travel significan­tly farther on their own before arriving at their destinatio­n.

For ITN to continue to work, Hunt said, the organizati­on will need to rely on more volunteers in the future. The organizati­on transports an average of 150 individual­s each month, for an average of 835 total rides per month, said Kimber Threet Saint-Preux, executive director for ITN Orlando.

“Not only do we have a difficult problem, but we have sparse resources to solve this problem,” Hunt said. “Volunteers and additional public resources are a big part of the solution.”

A solution will become increasing­ly important as baby boomers continue to age.

In 2014, transporta­tion was a top concern for callers to Eldercare Locator, a nationwide senior-referral service. Of those who sought transporta­tion resources, 64 percent had a pressing request for help, the data report says. Nearly 80 percent needed transporta­tion help to reach doctor’s appointmen­ts.

Hunt predicts that the lack of alternativ­es might mean older adults don’t retire from driving even when necessary. It might also increase the number of people who turn to senior-living communitie­s, he said. De Luca shares the sentiment.

“If you can’t get food in you, and you can’t get to the doctor and no one is available to look in on you, it gets to be pretty tough,” Hunt said.

De Luca said it’s important to make a plan with family members to set boundaries and expectatio­ns.

“When you’re navigating life without transporta­tion, this is your second job,” De Luca said. “Look for ways to regain independen­ce that are realistic and feasible.”

De Luca said that defining happiness will look different as the older American adapts to a life that no longer means getting behind the wheel, but that it can still be achieved.

For Ruth Combs, who never had a drivers license of her own, ITN Orlando enabled her husband

Sampling of rates

Lynx: $1 senior rate for standard bus routes.

Access Lynx: $4 standard; $7 for premium trip, depending on proximity to standard routes.

ITN Orlando: $60 membership fee each year; $4 plus $1.50 per mile; CarTrade program allows older adults to exchange their cars for credit.

Diamond Cab Taxi Co.: First mile is about $4.20; each mile after that is $2.40; $27 for each hour the cab is left waiting. to quit driving with confidence. When he died, it became something more.

“As seniors we can go out to other organizati­ons and volunteer because we have ITN to get us there, so we’re not lost; we’re there and kind of reborn with ITN because they’re making it available for us to go, and that’s what we really want to do,” Combs said.

 ?? RED HUBER/ STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Ruth Combs, 80, of Orlando, who does not drive, gets a ride Monday from John McCalliste­r, 76, a volunteer driver for ITN Orlando, a company that specialize­s in helping older folks get around town.
RED HUBER/ STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Ruth Combs, 80, of Orlando, who does not drive, gets a ride Monday from John McCalliste­r, 76, a volunteer driver for ITN Orlando, a company that specialize­s in helping older folks get around town.
 ?? RED HUBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ??
RED HUBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER

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