One of the great joys of being an older person is having time and freedom Ų and that includes freedom to travel. As doctors who care for older people, we love when our patients bring us tales (and photos) of their most recent journeys (although we do get a bit jealous from time to time). The vast majority of older people with and without chronic medical problems can travel safely! However, a few „common senseš precautions can help to make sure that your trip is everything you planned!
Before You Go:
Talk to your doctor about your medical condition(s), and run your itinerary by him or her if you have concerns. Older adults do tend to have a bit more chronic medical problems than younger folks, and these should be taken into account. For example, hiking in the Swiss Alps may not be ideal for patients with severe arthritis of the knees or hips; patients with advanced emphysema would want to avoid high altitudes such as the Rocky Mountains. If you're concerned, ask your doctor!
Take enough of your medicines in their original bottles with you, as well as a list of your chronic medical problems. We receive calls every week from patients inside and outside of the United States for medication refills away from home. At best this is an inconvenience, at its worst it is life threatening! Frequently we cannot identify equivalent generic medications abroad even if they are available.
Make sure the immunizations you need are up to date based on your travel destination. The most up to date information can be obtained from your doctor, or the CDC web site www.cdc.gov/travel/. We can not resist pointing out here that the vast majority of older people should be immunized annually against influenza.
If you have a heart problem, keep a copy of your cardiogram with you. Cardiac problems are extremely common in people of all ages, and patients with even minor cardiac problems often have cardiogram changes that can be difficult to interpret without a prior tracing. Should you become ill with symptoms that may or may not be heart related while traveling (such as chest pain, nausea, or shortness of breath), a „referenceš cardiogram can be crucial.
If you get ill before leaving, see you doctor. A minor medical problem can turn into a major hassle when you're far from home. Do not take chances if you don't feel well before you leave- ask your doctor if travel is still advised.
While You're Away∑
Avoid alcohol while flying. This tends to dehydrate travelers, young and old. Dehydration is a major cause of confusion and other medical problems in older people.
Stretch frequently if you're on a long plane ride. Long periods of immobility can lead to blood clots. Flex your ankles and walk about the cabin periodically.
Pace yourself. Try not to cram all your tourism into too little time. One of the joys of being an older traveler is the luxury of time. Rest between major sightseeing jaunts and listen to your body if its tired!
Have a plan in case you get sick away from home. In the states, academic medical centers (if one is nearby) are a good source of care when you do not know the local medical community. If you get sick while abroad, the U.S. consulate or embassy is a good place to think about getting a referral. If you have a particular medical problem and plan to be away for more than a week or two, ask your doctor about a referral to an appropriate specialist in that area.
Other Important Considerations∑
Consider travel insurance. If you have invested in an expensive trip and have some medical problems that could cause a last minute change of plans, it's a good investment. Talk to your travel agent about this.
Think about supplemental health insurance, especially abroad. In general, Medicare does not pay for medical services outside the United States. Many supplemental policies (or „gapš policies ) offer this coverage. Consider buying one, if only temporarily, if your plan to be away for more than a short period.
With a little thoughtful planning, you could have the trip of a lifetime!