Social isolation and loneliness lead to poorer population health outcomes greater mortality, and greater health care spending. This risk of poorer health and increased risk of premature mortality affects all age groups who may also be isolated due to geography, lack of transportation options, or other reasons.
Older adults face unique risks related to social isolation and loneliness, largely because of the many major life transitions that they are likely to experience, including retirement, death of a spouse, death of other social contacts, and changing health and functional abilities. A 2019 poll by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, which surveyed 509 older adults over age 60 and younger adults with a disability, found that those who, because they never or no longer drive, face barriers getting around experience feelings of physical isolation, frustration, and being trapped.
Engaging in social, wellness, and civic opportunities can be good antidotes to these life changes, and can ensure older adults maintain a sense of connectedness and stem off isolation and loneliness. Yet doing so often requires traveling outside of one’s home, at a time when the aging process itself may lead to a decreased physical and mental capacity to drive oneself safely, resulting in a loss of mobility. Given these many life changes and the diminishing independence that can come with aging, public transportation plays a key role in solutions to address social isolation in older adults.
Public transportation services, particularly in rural areas, may be a literal lifeline for individuals who have no other means of moving about their community. Accessible services allows for individuals to participate in life sustaining and enriching activities. These activities such as employment or volunteering, food access, personal appointments, and social events can create a sense of purpose, boost an individual’s mental outlook and cognitive function, and promote enhanced physical health.
Through programs such as travel training, bus buddies, and other targeted mobility and transportation interventions, mobility professionals have the opportunity to have a profound impact on decreasing the impacts of social isolation and loneliness in populations across the country.
For further investigation . . .
The Role of Transportation in Addressing Social Isolation in Older Adults
NCMM investigated the hypothesis that a lack of transportation can be shown to be associated with incidences of social isolation among older adults; specifically, that a lack of mobility directly affects patterns of social engagement by dictating people’s access to resources, amenities, and socializing opportunities.