Uber Apps for the Elderly

I truly think Uber is the best innovation ever. As a now-Medicare recipient who has lived in San Diego for decades, my worst fear was becoming a non-driving senior in the Land of Crappy Public Transit. Local taxi services don't want to do short hauls, and much of the city isn't accessed by buses, most of which don't run at night anyway.

But like a deus ex machina, there came Uber. Uber happily does short hauls. And comes immediately! Any time! When they say they're coming, they actually come! On top of that, they're half the cost! And no I don't have stock in Uber!

One teeny weeny problem with Uber, at least as far as senior citizens are concerned: you currently need a smartphone. Fortunately, once your techno savvy kids have installed it for you, the app is almost frightening easy to use. You push the Uber icon and the driver knows where you are because of the GPS on your phone, and comes and gets you. Your credit card is already on file with them so you don't even have to have cash. Tip is included!

The people who manufacture those large-print, totally basic Jitterbug cell phones for the elderly would be wise to figure out how to put an Uber app on it. Advice for 18-year-old techno geek app designers: It should be a button with a CAR on it, okay? You're dealing with a population who isn't getting either younger or more techno savvy.

Now that I've been using Uber for a while, I've been thinking of all the other applications Uber 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 begin. We seniors joke about it, 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 his 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 wasn't at home, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. When I adamantly insisted "I do not need institutional care!" soothed, "You seem to be having one of your good days, dear."

But this made me realize that Uber has huge possibilities for the senility set. It could have your address installed in the app so that if you got lost and couldn't remember where you lived, you just press the Uber button and the driver shows up and takes you home. That, of course, is assuming you can remember to push the Uber button but that seems inherently easier than remembering your address. Numbers are the first to go.

But I had some even better ideas after my younger son, the nice one, told me that in the process of extricating themselves from three tiny kids, he and his wife arrived at a dinner party in Westwood without the chocolate soufflé they'd promised to bring for dessert. Dismayed at the prospect of going all the way home to get it, my son had the brilliant idea of sending an Uber car to his home where the sitter handed off the soufflé to the Uber driver, who delivered it to the party. It was automatically charged to the credit card without their ever getting in the car themselves. (For the record, the soufflé rated the driver very highly.)

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

Giving my imagination full rein, I was thinking that Uber could develop a sub-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 Uber-GoGetHer app which immediately gives a GPS location on Mom, who presumably has her phone in a little velvet carrying case 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 PowerPoint 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 Uber driver: DON'T TAKE ME BACK TO THAT PLACE. LEAVE ME AT THE DOWNTOWN RAILROAD 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.

For the moment, however, I'm pretty sure I have a car. I even know where the keys are.