Tips on Travelling with an Older Adult

Tips on Travelling with an Older Adult

Traveling can be one of the most exciting experiences of our lifetimes whether the goal is to see the world or to visit long-distance friends, family, grandchildren or a childhood home.

You may find as a caregiver that you need to hit the road for a personal or medical reason. Whatever the reason, if you are planning to travel short or long distances with your parent or an older person, there may be a few challenges you simply may not have anticipated—some matters that are not always present when we are traveling on our own.

The changes that occur with aging can lead to problems with mobility such as unsteadiness while walking, difficulty getting in and out of a chair or falls. Muscle weakness, joint problems, pain, disease, and neurological difficulties are common conditions in older people which can contribute to mobility problems.

In addition, rapid changes in temperatures and climate and the general stress of traveling which may include waiting, sitting and standing for long periods of time can take a toll on an older person’s health and well-being.

Many older adults suffer from dehydration which can cause fatigue and interfere with blood sugar levels. Air travel creates an increase need for hydration due to the unnaturally low humidity levels of aircraft cabins. Drink plenty of water.

Be alert to the signs of severe hydration— low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, extreme thirst, loss of skin elasticity, little or no urination, confusion and fever.

Be sure that your elderly loved one is well-hydrated throughout the entire trip. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks in order to not deplete the body of water and essential minerals.

Our loved one may have a specific health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Any of these health conditions can make going on a vacation more complex regardless whether you are traveling by plane, cruise ship, train, bus or your own family car. These health conditions require that your loved one be cleared for travel by their primary care physician.

The Family Caregiver Alliance at www.caregiver.org recommends a wearable identification bracelet or a GPS unit for a loved one with dementia. Learn more about lifesaving location devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia who wander.

Always remember to bring their walker or cane to provide your parent or older adult with stability when walking. Wear comfortable and loose clothing to lower the risk of heat stroke, hypertension and high blood pressure.

As with any vacation, the key is planning ahead: by planning ahead, you will ensure the older person’s travel experience is one of safety and comfort. In doing so, you and your family will enjoy a worry-free trip with the best memories to last a lifetime.

Here are the most common travel needs of older persons and for an older traveler who is a fall risk.

1. Check with a Doctor for Travel Approval and Tips at least 4 to 6 weeks before your travel to be sure travel is safe for your parent or loved one. If you or your loved one has been recently sick or find yourself sick at the time of travel, see your doctor to discuss whether you should travel.

  • Inform the doctor on where you are traveling, the length of your trip, what type of activities you might do, and your personal history such as age, current health status including medical and vaccine history.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date on all your vaccinations. Learn more about vaccinations you may need by visiting the Vaccination page on the Travelers’ Health website from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .

Consider any recommended vaccines for your destination and discuss with your doctor any allergies, current medications, and any health concerns. Ask your doctor about any drugs you may need for fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises travelers:

“Make sure that you fully understand all the risks involved with your travel plans and any ways to protect your health that your doctor recommends before you go.”

2. Reserve for Special Services and Assistance in Advance because navigating an airport can be disorienting for an elderly traveler. Make sure all your requests are made early when booking a flight or scheduling a train and check on availability of special seating in a disabled row or near the restroom.

  • If questions arise regarding your health condition, you will find that it helps to have a doctor’s statement to present at check-in. Let the airline carrier know your loved one’s ability. Can she/he walk or stand? Is there limited arm movement?

If traveling by air, remember to request special meals in advance as recommended by your doctor.

Airports and other transportation hubs offer all wheelchairs or power scooters for the elderly but quantity may be limited or in use. All airports also offer cart rides for passengers with disabilities and to those who need special assistance getting from one terminal to another.

  • Simply call ahead to make a reservation to ensure one of the vehicles is available to get around the airport as needed. Remember to also request transportation assistance at the passenger’s destination.

Airline passengers identified as pre-boarding have priority to have their folding wheelchairs and assisted devices on board upon request at no extra cost.

  • Airline personnel can arrange to meet you at check-in, take you to the gate and meet you even at transfer points with advance notice. However, avoid booking flights that are too close together. You may end up rushing from one end to the terminal to the other to catch your fight. Generally, it is recommended to arrive at the airport 1 ½-2 hours before your flight leaves.

Are you wondering —How can I speed through security and not remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets to save time and stress?

  • The Transportation Security Administration offers expedited screening at more than 180 airports with select participating airlines nationwide. To learn more about expedited screening and how to apply online, go to their website at https://www.tsa.gov/precheck .

Regarding security screening for older individuals, the TSA already has in place at some major national airports modified screening procedures for travelers age 75 and older.

  • Hotel Room — Reserve a handicapped room for your elderly parent. The room will usually feature handrails in the bathroom and a variety of safety hardware to prevent falls. In most cases, these rooms are located on the first floor or within easy access of the elevator. To determine if this type of room will meet your needs, check directly with the hotel.

Hotels are required to list all its features and if grab bars are listed, they are legally required to have them. Remember also the option to rent in advance wheelchairs from hotels.

  • Don’t forget to pack a night light that plugs directly in to an electrical outlet. This will help older adults who may become disoriented and stumble when getting up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar room.

3. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that all people including those who use a scooter, wheelchair, walker, cane or other mobility-device be screened in some way. If your power equipment requires disassembly, arrive at least an hour early. Remember to remove any bags or satchels attached to mobility devices and place it on the x-ray belt for inspection.

  • Regarding shoes — to avoid unwanted delays, wear well-fitting, easily removable and comfortable shoes that have non-skid soles. Encourage your loved one to not wear slippers, high heels, fashion boots or flip flops. Wearing compression stockings can help stimulate the lower legs during long flights.
  • If your elderly loved one has a surgically implanted device such as artificial hips or other surgical implants, inform airport security officers of the location. The airport security officers may decide to provide an alternative method of screening rather than sending them through metal detectors.

According to the TSA, passengers with pacemakers and defibrillators should not go through metal detectors. Such items are typically screened with advanced image technology or an alternative method.

  • For a smooth screening process and loss prevention, keep all medications in carry-on bags and in a clearly labeled easily-separated plastic storage bag. Consider bringing the original bottles of medications and even some extra medications and the written prescriptions.

If traveling abroad bring the generic names of your medications and their names in the local language.

  • The U.S. State Department recommends checking with the embassy of the country you will be visiting and ask if you will be allowed to have possession of medications.
  • While travelers are permitted to carry medications onto American flights, if traveling internationally you could run into problems. Ask your doctor for a letter stating what medical conditions you have and what medications she has prescribed, including the generics which can then be presented to foreign security agents, if needed.
  • Notify security personnel, if your loved one has diabetes and will be carrying supplies such as vials, syringes, jet injectors, epipens, infusers or insulin pumps. Insulin in any form must be clearly identified. For more details, visit the American Diabetes Association website.

4. Research Medical Facilities at Your Destination if you will be traveling to an unfamiliar area. Do you know where the nearest hospital is in the event of an emergency? Bring your contact details of your current primary care doctor and specialists and health insurance information.

Consider downloading essential travel apps such as Find-ER by Air Ambulance or Travel Smart, the official app for U.S travelers available on both iphone and Android operating systems. In the event of an emergency, be sure to have all your legal documents including your advance directives. Download a free copy of your state’s advance directives at www.caringinfo.org.

5. Prepare Identification and Essential Documents for all adult passengers to show valid identification at the airport check-in point in order to travel. Examples of acceptable forms of identification include a current driver’s license or state photo identity cards issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, U.S. passport, U.S. Military (active duty or retired military and their dependents) and a permanent resident card.

  • Up-to-date information on identification requirements is available at the official website of the Department of Homeland Security— the Transportation Security Administration. A government passport is accepted as the highest level of identification by federal TSA security officers.

Once you have applied for a US Passport allow a processing time of 4-6 weeks prior to your travel abroad. Your local post office will have the application forms; or you can go online to access the information and forms. Official photographs are available at AAA offices and at many large drug stores. Personal photos are not acceptable. Two copies of the photograph must be sent with your application.

  • Make 4 photocopies sets of the passport, driver’s license, Medicare and health insurance cards, travel tickets and itinerary, boarding pass (if secured online), physician prescriptions and/or statements and physician’s contact information. One complete set is placed in your parent’s hand carry bag and the second set on roll aboard luggage. The third set of these documents is to be forwarded to family at arrival destination and the fourth one is to be left home.

6. Provide and Exchange Regular Communication with a calling card or prepaid cell phone to stay in communication with your elderly loved one at all times. Program your phone number in their phone. Always carry a photo of your loved one, if case you become separated and need help to find them. The caregiver’s name and phone number should be on the older passenger’s identification bracelet.

7. Pack Essentials Items in an Accessible Tote Bag for your loved one such as medication, important documents, phone numbers, favorite snacks or drinks, some type of entertainment such as a deck of cards or reading material, reading glasses, a light sweater, a fold-up blanket, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a magnifying glass with light to better navigate the poor lighting conditions on airplanes and restaurants. Consider packing extra protection for incontinence to manage bladder control problems of your family member.

8. Pack As Lightly as Possible in order to enjoy your travels and to easily provide helping hands and the proper attention to your loved one who may need special assistance. Try not to pack more that 2 weeks of clothes, limit yourself to 2 pairs of shoes and pack garments that can be easily color-coordinated with everything else in your travel wardrobe.

9. Maintain a Predicable Daily Routine to maintain good healthThis approach is also critical to reducing anxiety and stress, in particular with a loved one that has a cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. The risk of agitation is lowered when keeping mealtimes, medications schedules and rest times as consistent as possible.

10. Plan for a Vacation Schedule with Breaks and Relaxation Time for you, the family and your elderly loved one. There is nothing less relaxing during a vacation than to rush from place to place. Find quiet time and schedule it in daily. For road trips, remember to plan to take plenty of breaks, whether it is taking time for a full meal or a short restroom break at least every two hours. By getting out of the car and walking around you will be able to avoid deep vein thrombosis due to sitting for long periods.

The following helpful website provides additional information and valuable tips to guide you in planning a trip with an older adult or an adult traveler with disabilities—The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality.

Aging Life Care Managers™ are an excellent resource for assisting older adults due to their extensive professional network. If your family member cannot accompany your parent on the trip, they can help you enlist a variety of services from airport drop offs and pickups to personal assistants, travel companions and nurse escorts.

When traveling with older person who is a fall risk or has medical concerns, all you need is a little extra preparation and advance planning— so that you and your loved ones can vacation anywhere and anytime in comfort and security.

One of the best gifts to give to your parents is the gift of travel. As a caregiver, the time spent with your elderly loved one to a travel destination can be one of the peak experiences in your life. Don’t miss this special opportunity to take a break from the daily routine, enjoy a special trip or adventure and to enrich an older person’s life through travel.

What are your indispensable caregiver tips for successful and low stress elder travel?

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