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

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - 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

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