I’m here to share with you my latest interview with ITNAmerica, a nonprofit transportation network for seniors serving fifteen states. “Why the interview?” you might be wondering. Have you ever thought about how you would manage your day-to-day life if you couldn’t drive? Do you ever think about what you’ll do when you’re old and frail, or old and ill, and can’t drive? While I don’t lose sleep over it, I do think about it. I think about how I’ll get to the grocery store, the bank, the movies, and, of course, the wine outlet. The answer: because my immediate world has left me with few emergency exists through which I can escape such dread-filled questions.
My eighty-eight-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in a condo down the hall from my husband and me, is blind in one eye and has dementia. She cannot driven; by choice she has not driven for years (God bless her), and depends on family for transportation. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, she prefers not to leave the house very much. When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the dents and scratches scarring the front and rear of his car left me no other choice but to take the keys away from him, he had to learn to accept that caregivers would be driving him to and from the bank, doctor’s appointments, and his favorite Italian restaurant. And because it was an older driver who slammed into me, and seveny-two others, while I was visiting a farmers’ market in California years ago, I can’t help imagine how all seventy-three of our lives would be much different if the driver had access to transportation services, and was willing to use them.
I learned about ITNAmerica while researching news articles for a writing project and, ironically enough, learned that the founder, Katherine Freund, experienced a similar tragedy to mine and dozens of others: In 1988, an eighty-four-year-old driver ran down her three-year-old son. He survived, but suffered a traumatic brain injury. Instead of letting herself get swallowed-up by anger, Katherine, an inspirational speaker who has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and on CNN, and has won numerous awards recognizing her work around public health initiatives, made lemonade out of lemons (forgive me for the cliched proverbial phrase). She built and supported community-based senior transportation services.
Like Katherine, I too feel summoned to advocate for the most efficient and cost effective transportation options for the older population. While here in Northern Vermont we have Neighbor Rides and Special Services Transportation Agency (SSTA), I’m not sure that’s enough. After all, an estimated 25% of Vermonters will be sixty-five and older by 2030. Believe it or not, Vermont ranks higher than Florida when it comes to age: 42.8 versus 41.9.
What transportation options for elders are available in your community? Maybe you’re twenty-nine, thirty-three, or fifty, like me, and saying this to yourself: it’s too soon to plan for when I’m eighty, eighty-nine, one hundred.
But I must agree with Jodi Picoult: “Time is an optical illusion- never quite as solid or strong as we think it is.”