Should we consider community mobility when we really need to stay home for our safety and the safety of our communities?

Older people, disabled people and people with chronic medical conditions, such as dementia, have been identified as vulnerable and encouraged or enforced to strictly limit their community movement and contact with other people during this pandemic. These restrictions have more recently been applied to the population in general. This has resulted in sudden and massive disruption to regular social contact, role participation and access to essentials like food and medical services. While you might think that someone who has successfully navigated driving cessation, may not find this adjustment difficult, we found there were some key lessons from the CarFreeMe program that are relevant here to all of us:

1. Understand the rules and the risks

In these unusual times, there may be formal requirements regarding community travel. This differs from place to place, so it is important to access your local information about what the current regulations are. The local government health sites are often reliable sources of information. On top of this, it is important to understand the risks related to travel for each person and what can be done to manage these. Being a non-driver may put someone at increased risk of virus transmission if they rely on public transport or use taxis or ride shares[1]. Even transport services[2] are having to carefully consider risks to passengers and drivers. Because of this, extra planning, problem-solving and creative solutions might be needed. If someone has trouble understanding or remembering the rules and the risks, it’s important to set up reminders in their environment, alternative options and supports for safety. Some people are even considering more support in their living “bubble” to help during this time of disruption and confusion.

2. Meet basic needs

While there are many enjoyable aspects of being out and about in the community – often people go out to get the things they really need. Making sure people have access to medical services (including medication), groceries and other supplies can help keep people staying home safely. While there are shortages and supply chain issues at the moment, many services will offer a delivery service for older people and disabled people. Giving some assistance to find and set up necessary resources might be required. If no formal options are available, explore whether a local informal option through working with neighbours might be possible[3]. Remember, that if it feels awkward to accept the favour, you might be able to repay it in another way – bake a cake, give gardening advice, contribute some money towards a coffee or help with someone’s homework!

3. Stay engaged – do things that are important to you

Staying home is especially tough when it means not doing your usual things. People’s routines are disrupted, their social connections abruptly reduced, and important roles paused. For our health and wellbeing, routines can help us to feel safe and help the world to feel a bit more normal; Having things to do that are meaningful to us, can help us to feel a bit more in charge and distract us from worries, as well as using up nervous energy. We might need to help with keeping routines as much as we can and finding and supporting new ways to stay involved with things that are important to us. We might need to write out a routine for each day, schedule some virtual social contact and find some time to do things we enjoy – even if we do them in another way. For example, if we can’t go to visit our friends, we might telephone, write or use the internet to connect with them and share a meal virtually. If we can’t get to the men’s shed, we might visit online[4] or fix things around the home or watch some videos to learn a new skill. If we can’t get to the gym, we could go for a walk, do yoga at home or find a workout routine on YouTube. Around the world, people are also choosing to reconnect with things they used to do like baking, or find new interests, like gardening. Volunteers are finding new ways to contribute. While people can’t be travelling within the community like normal – they must be supported to be mobile and connected with other people[5].

4. Stay connected – and get support for grief and anxiety

In the same way that people can grieve the driving role and their past life, many people are grieving things from cancelled holidays, financial and role losses and interruption to their connection with family. Others face major losses in terms of health, friends and family. It is also an extremely worrying time for people. It is important to be kind to yourself, do things that are calming and nurture your wellbeing, and find ways to connect with people. Many strategies are being suggested to stop people from becoming overwhelmed[6] and there are increasing options for getting mental health support through telehealth[7].

While this is an undeniably difficult and disrupted time, there are things that we can do to help all of us adjust to this constriction of our community travel. These strategies may be of even more importance to people who are no longer driving. However, you may also find that they have figured out many of these strategies and can teach the rest of us how to live well in our circumstances. Hearteningly, we are also seeing an explosion of informal and formal creative solutions to connecting, getting essentials, supporting and doing meaningful things[8]. We can support each other to stay connected and engage, even when we can’t be out and about in the community.

The CarFreeMe program, developed by The University of Queensland, has paused all clinical trials and studies involving direct contact at this time. We are still collecting details of people who may be interested in being involved with the program through being part of or collaborating on studies, or through completing the training once it is available. If you are interested in being involved, please email research@carfreeme.com.au.


[1] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/how-can-australians-who-use-public-transport-avoid-contracting-covid-19

[2] https://www.nadtc.org/covid-19-resource-center/?utm_source=NADTC+March+2020+enews&utm_campaign=March+2020+NADTC+enews&utm_medium=email

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-51979390

[4] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-26/coronavirus-prompts-launch-of-virtual-mens-shed/12089686

[5] https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/maximising-mobility-in-the-older-people-when-isolated-with-covid-19/

[6] https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/prescriptions-life/202003/covid-19-it-s-ok-feel-overwhelmed-and-be-unproductive

[7] https://theconversation.com/all-australians-will-be-able-to-access-telehealth-under-new-1-1-billion-coronavirus-program-134987

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/neighborhood-groups-across-the-washington-area-are-forming-militias-of-caring-and-help/2020/03/16/dfc970be-6788-11ea-b313-df458622c2cc_story.html