Saturday, January 20, 2024

Uber For The Elderly

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 22, 2024] ©2024

Rideshares have enjoyed mixed reputations in recent years but compared to the olden days when the only other options were taxis, they’ve been a huge boon to the elderly. 

I can’t even count the number of rides home I gave over the years to seniors who were relegated to a folding chair in front of a supermarket, a cart full of melting groceries next to them, waiting for a taxi that never came.  These were women who would normally never get in a car with a stranger but after an hour in a folding chair in a grocery store parking lot, being murdered didn’t sound too bad.

Now a senior myself, I’ve been thinking about all the other applications ride shares might be used for with the elderly. On your 65th birthday – as soon as that Medicare card is laminated and tucked into your wallet, the dementia anxiety attacks – and jokes – begin. We laugh, of course, to hide the fact that we’re completely terrified. Watching the 11 o’clock news about the elderly person who has wandered off from her facility truly puts fear in your heart. You can’t help but super-impose your face on the screen. And you just know your hair would look like hell.

I read an article a while back that said if you can’t find your car keys, that’s getting older. If you don’t remember you have a car, it’s dementia. Every time I’m searching in my mind for a word for a column or crossword, I find myself muttering a refrain in the background, “I have a car, I have a car.” Probably if I stopped doing that, I’d remember the word a lot sooner.

It didn’t help that soon after my 65th birthday, my older son, the perpetual prankster Rory, saw an ad on TV for a placement service for the severely memory-impaired. Several days later, a very sympathetic woman called and asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. She seemed to have a great deal of information about me and when I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.”

But back to Uber. I think ride shares have huge possibilities for the senility set. There could be a special app that pops up as soon as you pick up your phone showing a photo of your house with your address underneath and the words “You live here.” If you still couldn’t find your house, you’d just press the icon’s Save Me! option and a ride share would show up and take you home. That, of course, is assuming you can remember to push the button but that seems inherently easier than remembering your address – especially here.

Addresses in La Jolla are basically permutations of the same ten Spanish words.  You could be forgiven even before you’re senile for not remembering whether you live on Vista Playa Bonita or Playa Bonita Vista.

I had some even better ideas after my younger son told me that over the holidays one year, they sent a ride share to their house for the chocolate soufflé they’d inadvertently left home. The sitter handed off the soufflé to the Uber driver, who delivered it to the dinner party. (For the record, the soufflé rated the driver very highly.)

So, I’m thinking, if soufflés, why not Mom?

Letting my ever-overamped imagination run wild, I was thinking that Uber could develop an application called “Find My Mother.” Mom wanders away from The Home and son is alerted by the Escape Alarm on his phone that she is no longer tied to her bed. Son presses his new GoGetHer app which immediately gives a GPS location on Mom who presumably has her phone in a little velvet carry bag around her neck. (OK, you may have to microchip her.) The Uber driver swoops in, puts mom in the car (hopefully she goes quietly) and returns me, er, her to The Facility, courtesy of the “If found, please return to” app on Mom’s phone. Avoids that whole embarrassing evening news thing. Never mind that son didn’t even have to blink during his office Power Point presentation.

Now, as a senior, I think these Uber applications should go both ways. Don’t like the nursing home your kids have stashed you in? Before you make a break for it, you install an override app on your phone with special instructions to the rideshare driver: DON’T TAKE ME BACK TO THAT PLACE! LEAVE ME AT THE DOWNTOWN TRAIN STATION AND CHARGE A ONE-WAY TICKET TO SAN FRANCISCO ON MY CREDIT CARD. THEN THROW THE PHONE IN THE BAY. Like, we have rights too.

Now that I’m on Medicare, issues of aging occupy a lot of my brain cells. Olof thinks they would probably be better spent on memory exercises. The important thing is, I’m pretty sure I have a car.



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