A significant number of elderly people rely on non-functioning public transport systems to get to the doctor

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According to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), about 1 in 10 seniors living in urban areas reported using public transportation, and 20 percent of older public transit users said they relied on trains and buses , to get to your doctor’s appointment. Frailty and living in an area with broken sidewalks were associated with less use of public transportation, the study found.

This indicates a need for improvement availability and infrastructure in these cities to help meet the needs of an aging population. The study was published last month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Although our data was collected before the COVID pandemic, we know that the pandemic has disrupted public transit operations, which are still ongoing due to financial strain, staffing shortages and reductions in transit service across the county,” said senior study author Jason Falvey, DPT , Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physical and Rehabilitation Science at UMSOM. “We are concerned about the impact of this disruption on the nearly 700,000 older Americans who rely on subways and buses to get to their doctor.”

Many public transit users age 65 and older waiting for mass transit have to stand in extreme heat, rain or cold for more than 25 minutes, far longer than pre-pandemic wait times. Such factors can exacerbate chronic diseases like heart failure, kidney disease or diabetes, Dr. Falvey added.

To conduct the study, he and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Study on Aging and Trends, a representative survey of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older. Specifically, they looked at those living independently in urban areas who were interviewed about their use of public transport (bus, metro or train) during the previous month. According to the study, black and Hispanic seniors are more likely to use public transit, as are those who are financially disadvantaged.

Accessibility posed the biggest challenge: those who used wheelchairs were 65 percent less likely to use them public transport. Older adults who lived in areas with cracked or broken sidewalks were also less likely to use transit, which may exacerbate other known barriers to transit use, such as malfunctioning elevators at subway or surface stations.

“Public transport disruptions may increase disparities in health care for blacks and Hispanics elderly people who are more likely to rely on these services,” said Mark T. Gladwin, MD, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and John Z. and Akiko K. Emeritus Professor and Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Bauerov. “We need to invest in transport infrastructure because this is a vital public health need for our most vulnerable populations in Baltimore and beyond.”

Dr. Falvey and his colleagues plan to conduct a pilot study next year in West Baltimore to test the feasibility of certain interventions that can help older adults with disabilities better use public transportation. This will include providing mobility-related equipment to help them navigate uneven pavements, as well as free travel so they can attend medical appointments with a carer at no extra cost.

“Our current study found that transit users are more likely to visit their doctor alone compared to non-transit users, likely due to financial constraints,” Dr. Falvey said. “Visiting a loved one can be an important part of successfully managing chronic conditions that are common in older adults.”


Changes to Toronto’s public transit system will eliminate barriers and delay commuters


Additional information:
Afnan M. Ghimi et al., Epidemiology of public transportation use among older adults in the United States, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2022). DOI: 10.1111/jgs.18055

Citation: Significant Seniors Rely on Disrupted Public Transit Systems to Get to Doctor (October 24, 2022) Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-significant-seniors-transit- medical.html

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