(This article was originally published by Easter Seals Project ACTION.)
Ask the Expert – Judi Bonilla, Travel Trainer at San Diego-based We Get Around!
Travel trainer and gerontologist, Judi Bonilla shares her insights on travel training and why it is so important for older adults.
1. Tell us about your travel training program.
We Get Around! is a volunteer organization with a vision to improve the quality of life for San Diego's senior community. We’ve created a small group travel training program led by an experienced travel trainer that combines travel instruction, brain health information, and low-impact fitness.
The class is taught in the field using fixed-route buses and trolleys. Local landmarks are incorporated into class destinations, providing students exposure to a variety of travel patterns and community diversity. The class begins with a trip briefing, learning topic, and handouts so students can recreate the trip independently. Lessons include purchasing tickets, using accessibility services, personal safety, transit etiquette, and trip planning. The focus is to provide an environment where an adult learner can develop and practice the skills needed to travel independently.
We Get Around! is a volunteer-led program and receives no funding from city, state or local public transportation entities.
2. What got you interested in this line of work?
I am a gerontologist and early on saw the benefits travel training can offer older adults. In the field of aging, our work is focused on the principles of successful aging and aging in place. Transportation is a critical issue for older adults and their families. This program fills both a social need and gap in the public transit infrastructure for the residents of San Diego. Prior to We Get Around!, there was no travel training program serving the San Diego area.
3. Why do you believe travel training for seniors is so important?
Travel training is a great tool to use as older adults begin to decrease how far they drive, regulate where they drive, and when they drive. Having the “What Happens When I Can No Longer Drive” and the “Giving Up The Car Keys” conversations are tough for families and health care providers. Travel training is an excellent solution when exploring alternatives to driving. Research has shown that social interaction offers older adults many benefits. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function. One report found that men and women ages 60 to 80 reported that taking a short walk just three times a week increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year. Linking the use of public transportation to better health outcomes is another way elders can benefit from travel training
4. How do you address caregiver or family concerns when working with older adults?
Students of the program are self-referred and run the range of physical abilities. Some use mobility aids while other have complete mobility. At the first class orientation, students and caregivers learn how classes are researched, planned, and tested. We welcome a family member or caregiver to attend the first class with the students. Often the caregiver or adult child gets as much from the class as the student! In addition, we post class trips to YouTube and often tweet live on our trips.
5. How do health and wellness tie into public transportation for the population you work with?
This is one of the most exciting aspects of travel training. I recently presented a poster at the 2014 American Society on Aging Conference. The poster was titled Shifting the Image of Public Transportation from Have To...To Want To! With over 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day the need to improve health at every age is increasingly important. Recently, the Alzheimer’s Association included in its recommendations to stay socially connected, and exercise both body and mind. Travel training makes a powerful connection to all three!