Forward Thinking – Giving up the car keys doesn’t have to mean giving up your independence

Next month, my 87-year-old mother-in-law and her fiercely independent band of “Merry Widows” will set out on their annual beach trip. The pandemic shut down last year’s adventure, but this year they will not be deterred. Getting there is going to be a little different, however.

The five octogenarians have previously rented a minivan, signed up two of the crew as drivers and headed south to 30A. But this year, the designated drivers’ adult children strongly voiced their concerns about their moms’ driving to and from and all around Sherwood Forest, a k a Gulf Shores.

No worries. My mother-in-law’s sister, a much-younger 76-year-old widow, has been drafted for chauffeur duties. God forbid they would let one of their children drive them down or “chaperone.”

My own mother, 89, still drives her 2005 Voyager minivan to the beauty shop, church, grocery store and Dollar Tree. Yet we know her days behind the wheel are numbered, and she knows it too.

When the inevitable day comes when anyone’s car keys must be relinquished, it doesn’t mean they must become a shut in, however. The key to transportation independence is to be proactive, plan and, most importantly, practice living without a car while the car is still in the driveway.

Let’s start with the ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber. If you or your loved one is tech savvy, download the Lyft and/or Uber apps on your phone or tablet and start taking a few “practice rides” to become comfortable with the services. If you’re not so savvy, ask one of your grandchildren to set up the app on your smartphone or iPad and to take a ride with you to show you how it works. Trust me, they likely use Lyft or Uber regularly.

If you’re not tech savvy, don’t despair. Lyft has partnered with the senior-focused cell phone companies Lively (formerly Jitterbug) and Consumer Cellular to make setting up a ride as easy as dialing a number. Both phone companies now have specialized operators who connect with Lyft to set up a customers’ ride, giving seniors the ability to make their own transportation arrangements without having to rely on others. For those concerned about ride-share rates, consider that over the course of a year, the amount spent is still likely less than the cost of car maintenance, gas and auto insurance. All fares are direct billed, which means no cash changes hands, and both Lyft and Uber do extensive background checks on their drivers.

You can find more information about ride-share options for seniors with a quick Google search.

If you or your parent is shopping for a senior living or retirement community, ask each community specific questions about its transportation services. Does it provide regularly scheduled and/or on-demand transportation services? What type of vehicles are used? Who does the driving? Is there a cost for services and, if so, how much? You may be surprised at their differences.

The Heritage at Brentwood, for instance, makes regularly scheduled trips to a variety of grocery stores, Trader Joes and other specialty stores throughout the week. It provides limo-style rides to and from medical appointments. In fact, residents can arrange for on-demand rides anywhere they want or need to go. Some communities make a weekly trip or two to the grocery and provide limited other services. This may be all someone needs, but either way, it’s always best to “know before you go” as you weigh your senior-living decision even if you still drive … today.

Middle Tennessee has for-profit and non-profit senior transportation services to research and talk to as well. Most home-health and personal companion providers can provide transportation services. Be sure to ask your agency if it has checked the provider’s driving record and confirmed their insurance coverage.

The decision to stop driving — or asking a parent to give up his or her car keys — is always hard. It can come gradually or in an instant because of a health issue or an accident. Make it easier by remembering the three Ps: Be Proactive, Plan and Practice. And the sooner the better.

Susan Leathers is a semi-retired, Brentwood-based journalist with a keen interest in aging issues. Send suggestions for future columns to [email protected].

This monthly column is sponsored by The Heritage at Brentwood, Williamson County’s only LifeCare® community offering independent villa, garden villa and apartment homes on 48 acres – with the assurance of a full continuum of short- or long-term care right on-site if ever needed. For more information, call 615-507-2686 or visit

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