Senior Independence Awareness Month: Part III

Senior Independence Awareness Month: Transportation


What are some of the components that come to your mind when you think of the word “independence”? The ability to take your car and drive to where you need to go without thinking about it twice? Living on your own or sustaining a household? Is it the feeling of your control to make your own decisions without others dictating them?


Let’s take one of these considerations above and explore the importance of transportation in relation to senior independence. 


A senior in Belle Fourche fell, which left her unable to drive or get in a car. She began to use Prairie Hills Transit service to attend her physical therapy appointments. She now rides multiple times a week to activities at the Senior Center, to her medical appointments, and has been encouraging her friends to ride with Prairie Hills Transit as well. 


Prairie Hills Transit has grown from serving strictly senior citizens in Spearfish to providing transportation to youth, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and the general public – in a service area of fifteen communities in six different counties. Prairie Hills Transit has been a UWBH funded agency, and continue to serve the lives of many to live an independent lifestyle.


According to the the 2019 Community Needs Assessment, while transportation was included in the list of key priority areas, it was often mentioned in connection to the other priority areas.


Every day, Prairie Hills Transit sees how transportation availability – and lack thereof – affects some of our CNA priority areas in correlation with senior resources:


  • Mental Health and Senior Well-being Programs: Without transportation, seniors are unable to reach initial and follow up counseling appointments and are unable to consistently make trips to pharmacies for medication, or attend senior centers and local activities.
  • Food Security: Public transportation offers an affordable alternative to maintaining a personal vehicle, as well as a safe and reliable way for seniors, who cannot or do not drive, to have access not only to jobs but food pantries, nutrition sites, WIC offices, and grocery stores.
  • Economic Opportunities/Housing/Home and Family Life: Arguably one of the most important aspects of life is economic opportunity as it impacts all of the rest. When a person isn’t able to consistently get to work on time, it costs them hours and potentially their job. 


This can lead to financial distress and jeopardizes their housing, family life, food security, etc. This kind of instability also affects their mental health. According to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank: “The threat of ongoing debt or insufficient income can result in feelings of loss of control, anxiety, and other mental and emotional distress.” 


Another organization that bridges the gap of connecting senior citizens to the resources and help they need is Senior Companions of SD (SCSD). SCSD is a national volunteer service program that assists their clients with activities including meal preparation, light housekeeping, and transportation for grocery shopping and health care appointments. This support helps older adults and adults with disabilities to live independently. Clients receive these services free of charge regardless of income.


Also, the weekly contact helps reduce isolation and increase socialization. As mentioned in part II of our series, social isolation among seniors is alarmingly common and will only increase as the older population grows in numbers. Seniors with a sense of purpose or hobbies that really interest them are less likely to succumb to the negative effects of social isolation.


By providing weekly visits, Senior Companions can alleviate isolation and loneliness.


When Rapid City Senior Companion, Deb, picks up Donna every Monday morning, their day may include a trip to the bank or the beauty shop for a haircut. At the supermarket Deb takes the list from Donna and helps her pick out items from the shelves as Donna’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be. 


There are occasional trips to a thrift store to look around and sometimes bingo at Minneluzahan Senior Center. And while Donna no longer has a garden, she loves to look around Jolly Lane Garden Center when the flowers are blooming.


“Without Deb, I don’t know what I would do,” Donna explained. “I look forward to Mondays. It’s the one day I can count on someone being able to take me where I want to go. My granddaughter takes time off work to take me to my doctor appointments, but she doesn’t have time to wander around Hobby Lobby when I need something from there. I feel so lucky to have a Senior Companion and Deb is so nice,” she concluded.


Senior Companion Program of South Dakota distributed a survey mandated by Senior Corps - Independent Living Performance Measurement Survey to clients who have been served by a senior companion for at least six months. In 2018-2019, 213 surveys were distributed of which 153 were returned. Of those returned, 93% reported increased social ties/perceived social support due to the help of their Senior Companion.


We see the many benefits of reliable and affordable transportation for senior citizens to continue living an independent lifestyle. All of these priority areas are dependent upon each other, and transportation is the bridge that helps address some of these concerns.


What's next?

This wraps up our three part series on Senior Independence. We hope this series gave you perspective on how your donation is serving many of pressing needs in our senior community in the Black Hills.


It’s important to recognize that while independence is very much individually motivated and driven, interdependence in our communities through offering programs and resources can help others feel a sense of individual control in their lives. 


Throughout this series, we have shared how some of the programs we fund in the Black Hills gives senior citizens a sense of their independence and ability to make their own decisions and still enjoy freedoms like participating in social activities and getting the adequate nutrition to continue these activities. Access to affordable transportation to continue daily activities and living a structured, independent life.


How can you help make a difference with all this knowledge? Connect with someone in your community who could benefit from one of these services, be it a senior meal program, transportation assistance, or just a friendly face to give company. These services are here to serve. 


Your continued support to UWBH through donations will help keep all of these services continuing to provide resources that are providing mental health and wellbeing services.