Managing mobility devices is only the start of a caregiver’s dilemma when transporting an elderly person. Aging & disease create safety issues for a driver.
Transportation for an elderly family member can be a stressful issue for the new home caregiver. Not only do many elderly persons rely on mobility aids to get around, but certain diseases such as dementia can make traveling a safety concern.
What kinds of things do inexperienced caregivers need to know regarding transporting a parent or other elderly person? What caregiver tips for transportation of an elderly person make the job safer and easier?
Plan Ahead for Elderly Transportation
- A simple trip to the doctor can turn into a nightmare for the caregiver who hasn’t carefully planned in advance for any transportation problems the elderly person (and she) might face.
- Compact cars probably raise the most concerns regarding ease of patient transfer and carrying mobility equipment.
- Most devices like walkers and manual wheelchairs fold or disassemble for easy transport.
- Storage is still a problem however, for some vehicles. A wheelchair rack mounted on the car is a popular solution for the family caregiver who frequently transports a wheelchair user.
- The website Discount Ramps displays a variety of wheelchair carrier installations for all types of vehicles.
What else should a new caregiver consider when transporting an elderly person from one place to another?
- Consider applying for a handicapped parking permit. Parking close to a building keeps walking distance at a minimum for the elder or wheelchair user. The application process includes a doctor’s determination, so make sure you know the difference between a temporary permit (for temporary disabling conditions) and a permanent permit.
• Is the car going to be comfortable for the elderly passenger? Compact cars don’t offer much leg room, so the elderly person will probably have to sit in the front passenger seat.
• Be prepared to offer help; it’s not easy for an aged person with stiff joints and limited mobility to get into and out of the low seated position of any size car.
• Allow plenty of time. Rushing an elderly person who is mobility-challenged can result in injury – including (but not limited to) the caregiver sustaining a back injury.
• Consider any safety issues: Is the car in good running condition?
• Is the elderly person willing and able to use a seat belt? Does a car with an active seat belt system present a problem for the elderly passenger? (Active seat belts move into place automatically as the door closes.)
Transportation Problems a Caregiver Might Encounter
Vehicle breakdowns are a part of life, but keeping a car properly maintained can reduce the number of incidents. One of the worst scenarios is breaking down on the highway with an elderly or disabled person during the hot summer months or even in freezing temperatures. This is not only dangerous, but can quickly become life-threatening.
Having a backup plan will save a lot of anguish. OnStar® is a blessing to many caregiver drivers, and so is belonging to an auto club such as the American Automobile Association (AAA). If you can’t afford a club membership, then at least carry a cell phone. Keep an automobile charger on hand just in case the phone battery dies.
Transportation by Wheelchair Van or Paid Transportation
A wheelchair van is a great way to transport an elderly and/or a disabled person. If the van is a personal vehicle, then the caregiver is responsible for learning how the lift and motorized equipment operate – including how to manually raise and lower the lift in case there’s a power malfunction. A van with wheelchair locks or tie-downs eliminates having to transfer a wheelchair user from the chair into a passenger seat. (Even though the chair is locked into place in the vehicle, seat belts still have to be used to keep the wheelchair user safely seated.)
Some cities provide wheelchair transportation service for a fee. If this type of paid transport is easier on the elderly person, then it might be worth looking into. Check your local Yellow Pages for wheelchair transportation services in your area. Check references to see if the company is reliable.
Community transportation services are cheaper, but may require an application that includes a doctor’s statement. Some city-sponsored services require review of the patient’s financial status to determine eligibility and cost.
Safety Issues of Transporting an Elderly Person
There is a right way and a wrong way to transfer a wheelchair user into a car and back into the chair again. A physical therapist can demonstrate the best and safest way to perform elderly patient transfers so that neither the elderly person nor the caregiver gets hurt. A therapist may even suggest helpful devices such as a transfer board to make the task easier. See the website ActiveForever.com for illustrations of transfer boards.
Vehicles that have a high step from the ground may be too difficult for an elderly person to manage without assistance. Climbing into and out of a high vehicle could result in a nasty fall. With higher vehicles, a transfer board is useless. Trying to lift the elderly person into the seat could result in injury, as well.
Does the elderly person’s medical condition pose a safety threat? If a medical condition or disease causes the elderly person to become easily agitated or combative – as sometimes happens to victims of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia – then it’s wise to bring along a second person who can help if the elderly person has an outburst. Even if the elderly rider is fine going to the doctor, consider that after a stressful appointment he or she may be aggravated or uncooperative on the way home. Again, go over every detail to be prepared.
Transportation is a primary issue for a caregiver and the elderly person she (or he) cares for. It is imperative that the caregiver keep the car or vehicle in top running condition. Practice patient transfers in and out of a vehicle with an able-bodied person of similar size until the routine feels comfortable. Consider the elderly person’s temperament and any medical conditions that may put vehicle occupants at risk. The solution to elderly transportation issues is to plan ahead. Go through every step of the activity and be prepared to iron out any problems before getting on the road.