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Each year millions of seniors travel on our roads and airways. While many people find travelling somewhat inconvenient, for seniors with health problems it can be quite a challenge. Travelling long distances may often involve changes in a person’s normal sleep pattern, diet and routine. The person may also be travelling to a part of the world where the weather, pollution or altitude could vary significantly from what they are used to. While some situations may arise unexpectedly, seniors can take the following steps when they are planning their dream vacation:
- Make sure you are 100% compliant with all requirements related to covid-19 and take with you all necessary documents such as proof of vaccination, required negative tests, or others. This is for your destination country and also for your return to Canada.
- Don’t forget to bring all your medications. Always bring an extra few days’ worth in case your trip runs longer than you expected.
- Keep your medications with you in your carry-on luggage. Don’t put them with your check-in luggage. If you use syringes for insulin or narcotic medications for pain, bring documentation from your doctor or pharmacist to avoid problems with security personnel on the airport. Many third-world countries do not have the medical facilities you have grown accustomed to. If you get injured abroad, you may be in big trouble. So don’t take any chances by doing risky activities such as climbing ladders, swimming after drinking alcohol, and so on.
- Get travel insurance if you are travelling to a foreign country where you are not covered. In some countries the health care facilities are so poor that you will get out of there as soon as possible in case of a medical emergency. If you need to be airlifted, it can cost anywhere between thirty thousand to a hundred thousand dollars, depending on where you are. Make sure you know the restrictions and clauses that address preexisting conditions.
- Since heart attacks can happen anywhere, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of your recent EKG. In many cases one of the fastest ways to tell if there is a problem with your heart is to check an EKG and compare it with an old one.
- Consider how you will be travelling. You may want to hire a car or taxi rather than using congested public transport or driving on unfamiliar roads.
- Check to make sure that you don’t need any additional immunizations when traveling abroad. You can find out these things online by visiting: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/vaccines
- Additional vaccines may include one or more of the following: hepatitis A and B, tetanus booster (every ten years), typhoid fever or yellow fever. Don’t wait until the day or the week before your departure to get your vaccinations. Some vaccines may take weeks before they start to protect you from an infection. Your GP may not have these immunizations available. You may need to go to a travel clinic or your local health department. Be careful to follow all recommendations regarding the local food and water. Older adults are more vulnerable to becoming dehydrated from traveller’s diarrhea. Be sure to check with your GP before making medication changes.
- Make sure you leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or friends. In case of an emergency you want to make sure that someone can contact you.
- Because of the disruption that occurs with travelling, (change in sleep schedule, diet, etc.) diabetics need to be more careful about checking their blood sugar.
- Bring an extra set of eye glasses. Bring comfortable foot wear. Bring an alcohol-based hand wash.
- At high altitudes the air contains less oxygen and it can even be a problem during the airplane trip itself. Ask your doctor about whether supplemental oxygen will be of any benefit for you.
- If you are going to a third-world country, avoid wearing perfume, as this can attract flying insects that carry diseases. You may want to consider using an insect repellant as well.
Is it safe for seniors to travel alone on an airplane?
Airlines are not required to transfer passengers from wheelchair to wheelchair, wheelchair to an aircraft seat, or wheelchair to lavatory seat. Furthermore, airline personnel are not obligated to assist with feeding, bodily functions or providing medication to passengers. Disabled passengers who can’t transfer themselves or care for themselves should choose to travel with a companion or an attendant.
Travelling with seniors who need extra care
Bring an extra set of underwear and pants for your loved one. You never know if and when an accident may occur. You can bring cards to hand to staff and other passengers to tell people that your loved one has dementia. If you are travelling with someone with dementia, remember that the greater the disruption to their normal schedule for sleeping, eating and activities, the higher the risk that the person will become confused.
Preventing blood clots in your legs when travelling
Doctors have known for many years that seniors are at particular risk for developing blood clots in their legs after travelling long distances by plane, car, train, or bus.
When travelling by car, stop every hour or two to stretch and walk around. Failure to do so may result in increasing the risk of lower back pain, but more importantly, of developing a blood clot in the leg known as “deep vein thrombosis” (DVT). The risk of dangerous blood clots increases with sitting for more than five hours. When travelling by plane, train or bus, get up and walk around every hour or two. Wear compression hose. Use foot stretches to flex the calf muscles and leg stretches to flex the thigh muscles. Stay well hydrated while travelling. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
Fighting jet lag
People experience jet lag whenever three or more time zones have to be crossed, which in general is felt by older people more severely than by younger travellers. Jet lag differs from the travel fatigue that occurs due to difficulty sleeping, changes in diet, and other difficulties associated with travelling. While travel fatigue is cured with a good night’s sleep, people suffering from jet lag may need several days to completely adjust to their new environment.
If you are travelling to the east you will have to adjust your body clock. When you get to Italy, for example, the clock on the nightstand says 11 pm, but your body still thinks that it is only 3 PM. Some suggestions to prevent eastbound jet lag are:
- Go to bed and wake up an hour earlier for three days before your trip.
- Light therapy can help. Turn on bright lights when waking up.
- Melatonin can also help. Check with your doctor.
Studies have shown that people who used all three of these methods decreased their jet lag symptoms.
When travelling from Toronto to Vancouver, for example, your body will think that it is 8 pm, when in reality it is only 5 pm. Some things that you should do when travelling westbound are: When you arrive, try to stay awake while it is daylight and to go to sleep when it gets dark. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Eat at the times the locals eat, unless the custom is to eat at 1 o’clock in the morning!
Travelling to dangerous places
You should take some basic steps and be aware of your new environment: Stay out of the “bad” part of town. Talk to the staff at the hotel where you stay to be informed about which neighbourhoods are safe to walk around at night. Don’t wear any jewelry.
Don’t leave your common sense at home
Just because you are on vacation does not mean your brain should go on vacation too. There are some common-sense things which you need to remember: Wear sunscreen when you are outside. Wear seatbelts. Don’t over imbibe. Be extra careful when riding motorized vehicles, like an e-bike or Vespa. Stay out of dangerous neighbourhoods.
Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun. After all, you are on vacation. Enjoy your trip!