CareAcademy Blog

Helping Older Adults with Car Travel

The lack of access to usable transportation options is a major reason why many older adults cannot live in their own communities or travel with dignity and independence. There are innovations in technology and transportation that are helping elderly adults with car travel.   For caregivers, there are many potential difficulties with assisting an older adult with transportation, such as managing physical disabilities, dealing with a wheelchair or other device, and cognitive issues such as agitation. These are things that can be learned to manage if you have the right skills and knowledge and are prepared. Professional caregivers of older adults should always promote a safe and positive experience for both the passenger and driver or companion.

Here are our suggestions for caregivers who are helping elderly adults with car travel.

Consider Transportation Options for Older Adults

If the older adult is no longer able to drive, the options include:
  1. Family, friends and caregivers driving the older adult. This is of course the most convenient option for the older adult, and can be a valuable area where care professionals are helping elderly adults.
  2. Public transportation. These are fixed routes but available at a low cost. They can be very challenging for older adults, because they may not be wheelchair accessible, and there may be some distance to walk to the desired location from the transit stop.
  3. Personal transportation. These are door to door transportation programs, oven available through state programs and non profits. There is usually a fee, but some offer deep discounts for seniors. These transportation options vary between communities. For more information about helping elderly adults with door-to-door ride share programs in your community, go onto eldercare.gov for more details.

Assisting an Older Adult With Getting Into or Out of a Vehicle

Whenever you are helping an older adult into the car, transferring them from a wheelchair to a car, or assisting with a mobility device such as a wheelchair or walker, it is important to use proper body mechanics.

Basics of Helping a Senior In/Out of a Car:

  • Check the surrounding area for possible slip or trip risks
  • Wear appropriate non-slip footwear, which are safer for both you and the older adult
  • Stand with feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Keep your head and body as upright as possible.
  • Lower your hips to the height of the older adult by bending your knees and hips rather than your back.
  • Carry weight as close to your center of gravity as possible.
  • Get close to the older adult. Bear weight on your forearms rather than your hands.
  • Lift with your legs, not just your back.
  • When lifting, do not rotate your spine. Shift the position of your feet to turn (pivot).
  • Push or pull an object instead of lifting whenever you can.
  • Know your limits

Basics of Wheelchair Transfers.

When transferring, positioning, and helping elderly adults get from a wheelchair to a car:
  • Have the older adult you are helping wear a gait belt during transfers, if one is available. A gait belt is a safety device used for moving a person from one place to another. The belt may be used to help hold up a person while she walks and decreases the chance of injury of a helper hurting her back while transferring a passenger.
  • Open the car door and move the car seat back to make more room
  • Stand with your back to the inside of the car door and pull the wheelchair toward you between the car door and seat.
  • Talk the older adult through the transfer process step by step, so that he or she can assist if possible.
  • Hold on to the gait belt and help them to a standing position.
  • Use your legs to pull up for strength.
  • Have the older adult lean forward and push themselves up from the arms of the wheelchair  Discourage them from  pulling on the car door to stand because it is not stable.
  • Carefully pivot yourself and the older adult so that his or her backside is toward the inside of the car.
  • Help them sit on the seat with their legs still out of the car. Be careful that their head clears the door frame while they are sitting down.
  • Help them move their legs into the car once they are sitting and have been given a moment to gain their  balance. Use a swivel cushion to swing the legs while in a sitting position on the car seat. If you don’t have a swivel cushion, place a towel on a heavy duty plastic bag on your cloth seat or directly on your leather seat. Then, help the older adult sit on the towel-covered seat. Next, go to the other side of the car and pull the towel toward you. The plastic bag makes it easier to slide the person further into the car. Finally, pivot his or her legs into the footwell of the car.
  • Assist with the seat belt, and close the door before going to your own seat.
Helping elderly adults with mobility and transportation is important. Car travel is a part of daily life for most people, including older adults. As a professional caregiver, you can be prepared for any situation.  

Find out more about CareAcademy’s online courses for eldercare professionals.

Dr. Reddy is a specialist in Internal Medicine & Geriatric Medicine. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School & Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA. She has seen the struggles that families and caregivers go through when caring for adults. Through CareAcademy, she intends to improve people's lives. Dr. Reddy's research is published as journal articles and book chapters. She has also authored a book for family caregivers.

Madhuri ReddyHelping Older Adults with Car Travel

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