Few things make Doug Bratton’s heart fuller than when his gas tank is empty. For almost two years, the AMA member has been a volunteer with Drive Happiness. The Edmonton non-profit pairs seniors who can no longer drive with qualified volunteers, who provide low-cost rides to the grocery store, medical appointments and elsewhere.
“I usually drive a woman on Tuesdays who goes to lunch at her church; a lady on Wednesdays goes to visit her husband. And some others just go to the salon, even though their hair looks nice already,” Bratton smiles. “It’s an outing and it’s important for both their physical and mental health.”
When you turn 75 in this province, Alberta Transportation requires you to provide a medical report from a doctor to renew your driver’s licence. (Another report must be submitted at age 80, and every two years after that.) If you have a condition that warrants further review of your driving history, you may then be referred for additional testing.
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While the vast majority of seniors pass their tests, some may need to consider transitioning out of the driver’s seat and looking into mobility alternatives. According to the University of Alberta’s Medically At-Risk Drivers Centre, about a third of non-driving Alberta seniors do not have access to adequate transportation alternatives. Without the ability to get out and about, they face an increased risk of social isolation and mental health challenges—not to mention physical health risks because they’re less able to receive regular medical treatment. For these residents, a volunteer driver like Bratton can be a lifeline to vital services and their community at large.
“Alberta’s senior population is already 575,000,” says Liza Bouchard, executive director for Drive Happiness. “Within that group is a sizable number of people who cannot easily leave their homes,” And since the number of seniors is expected to double in the next 20 years, demand for transportation services won’t be dropping any time soon.
Last year, Drive Happiness completed almost 18,000 rides for close to 700 seniors. It also expanded its service to include all of Edmonton and many surrounding communities. Bouchard says the organization is currently working to grow into areas including Strathcona, Sturgeon, Parkland, Leduc and Brazeau counties. Expansion, however, means more volunteers are needed.
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“Our strength is truly our drivers,” says Bouchard. “They’re caring, compassionate individuals who love to help our seniors.”
Bratton says he often gets just as much out of the ride as his passenger. “I like to talk to people; it feels like I’m contributing to my community. We all get older eventually and it’s important that everyone has a chance to access these kinds of services.”
YOUR NEXT STEPS
AMA has tailored programs to help seniors stay on the road as long as safely possible.
Senior driver in-vehicle evaluation: An AMA Driver Education instructor conducts a vision test, questionnaire and confidential assessment of driving skills.
Brush-up lessons: In-car education for drivers who want to be proactive about maintaining their driving, or when recommended by a medical professional.
Mature driver course: A six-hour class, taught over three days, for seniors who want to update their awareness of road rules, automotive technologies and more.
Online resources: Access CAA’s online toolkit for mature drivers and their families, designed with medical professionals.