Tips for elderly people travelling abroad

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A greater life expectancy, better health in old age and increasing affluence have given elderly people more time and opportunity to travel or visit friends and relatives abroad. But there are some issues that elderly travellers should consider when planning the journey of a lifetime or a world cruise.
Getting adequate travel insurance can be a problem, particularly for those over 75, and especially for those with long-term illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease. However, purchasing full insurance is vital.
Read the small print of your insurance policy which should include repatriation in case of illness and ensure there are no important exclusion clauses.
Immunisations and malaria prevention remain as important in the elderly as in people of any other age – if not more so.
A weakened immune system makes infections more likely. Having had a disease previously, such as polio or diphtheria, does not always mean you are immune. If you are prescribed anti malaria tablets, be sure to mention if you are on any other medication.
If you suffer from any recurrent illness or are on regular medication check with your general practitioner. You may find a check-up helpful to ensure that you are fit to travel. A referral letter can be useful in case you you need treatment while abroad.
Take adequate personal medications. These must be clearly labelled and carried in hand luggage for easy access in case of delays or loss of luggage. While abroad store your medicines in a cool dry place. If you are crossing time zones, do not miss out doses especially if you are diabetic or have a heart condition.
Age affects the body’s function, which can increase the risks of travel generally.Declining senses can cause accidents or failure to see or hear important announcements. Poor balance and slow reaction time can increase the risk of falls and seasickness, and make adventurous walking more perilous. Thinning bones from osteoporosis increase the risk of fractures through falls.
Decreased lung capacity means there will be less of a reserve to deal with reduced oxygen at altitude or during chest infections. Decreased heart capacity makes it harder to bear stresses on the heart, through dehydration, altitude or exertion.
Remember to take care to with food and water hygiene. Reduced stomach acid raises the risk of food poisioning or infections through contaminated food. Poorer kidney function raises the risk that dehydration will lead to kidney failure and makes it harder for the kidneys to cope with salt loss through diarrhoea.
Poorer circulation leads to slower healing of scratches, bites and injuries making it more important to avoid insect and animal bites.

All this means that the elderly are more vulnerable to:

  • High temperatures and heatstroke.
  • Deep vein thrombosis.
  • Hypothermia.
  • The effects of low oxygen during air travel and at high altitude
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

It is often said that “old age does not come alone”. Age often brings with it long-term illness. This can also lead to various problems which arise during foreign travel;
There are more tablets to remember or worry about forgetting. Diuretics for high blood pressure can increase the risks of dehydration. Drugs for Parkinson’s disease and for high blood pressure can cause dizziness, fainting, unsteadiness and falls. There is a higher incidence of diabetes in older people which can be more difficult to control overseas. A loss of intellectual function may be exposed – causing someone to struggle to cope with their changed surroundings.
Some important issues to consider if you are elderly and travelling or taking elderly people overseas:

  • Good insurance should be obtained.
  • Travel should be planned carefully.
  • A pre-travel consultation should be booked at the travel clinic.
  • Contingencies should be planned for.
  • Journeys should not be over-ambitious and there must be plenty of rest stops.
  • Choose destinations with medical facilities and infrastructure.
  • Medication should be kept in hand luggage, with plenty of spare supplies.
  • Travellers should take their time to ease the risks and stresses of travel.
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