Seniors’ transportation needs critical to healthy living, says report

A report by the Conference Board of Canada explains how seniors’ unmet transportation needs are affecting their health

According to a new Conference Board of Canada report from the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care and the Centre for Transportation and Infrastructure, many Canadian seniors do not enjoy the transportation options needed to support active and healthy living.

“Canadian seniors need access to affordable and appropriate transportation options to meet their travel needs and to support their health and quality of life,” said Associate Director for Public Policy Daniel Munro, who is also the author of Managing Mobility: Transportation in an Aging Society. “Yet a growing number of seniors face transportation challenges as fewer have the capacity or interest to drive, while alternate transportation options are inadequate in communities built primarily for cars.”

The primary mode of transportation for adults across Canada is driving: more than two thirds of Canadians aged 65 to 74 use it as their main form of transport, and one-third of those aged 85 and above rely on it. This is in contrast to less than 8% of seniors that cite public transportation, less than 5% that report cycling or walking, and very few that identify taxis or accessible transit as their main mode of transport.

Most seniors who drive can do so safely, but many stop due to issues regarding mental and physical capacity. Most concerning is the number of seniors who keep driving in spite of deteriorating mental and physical capability: the Canadian Community Health Survey found 21% of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia drove in the previous month, and 17% cite driving as their primary mode of transport.

Less able seniors who choose to stay home may be safer from accident risk, but they miss out on a host of benefits. They cannot go to destinations or events such as medical appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, physical and social activities, and family gatherings and visits. They are also deprived of other gains, such as exercise from walking and an increased sense of autonomy.

“In short, without reliable and appropriate alternatives to driving, seniors’ ability to meet their transportation needs declines and they are more likely to experience negative effects on their health and quality of life,” said the report.

As the population of seniors in Canada is expected to grow, the report stresses the importance of meeting their transportation needs while managing safety and other risks. Such a movement will require “a suite of complementary policies and strategies, including better management of driver cessation, expansion of alternate transportation options, and improved urban design.”

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