Elder Couple Hiking

Travel Advice For The Older Generation

Travel is one of the most common hobbies for those that have retired and it is understandable why. With far-flung destinations seeming to get closer each year thanks to advanced technologies enabling aircraft to take us to our destinations faster, traveling the world has never been easier.

Currently around 10,000 American citizens turn 65 each day so the number of retirees in the United States is continuing to increase. While many are happy to take up hobbies such as bingo, mall walking or even knitting, many more are choosing to explore the world.

However, travel can also have side effects for all travelers, and the over 70s are not exempt.

Dr Winston Goh gained his doctor’s degree at the University of Hong Kong as well as his Diploma in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and believes there are procedures that older passengers can put in place to avoid some of the health issues flying can cause. For instance, if a younger person chooses to not drink enough fluids on their long-haul flight, they can compensate for the amount of stress that will put on their body. However an older person, especially one with health issues, have lower reserves and are unable to compensate.

Another symptom that is common for fliers of long-haul flights is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A condition where a blood clot can form in a vein deep within the body, DVT usually occurs in the thigh or lower leg and can potentially cause serious health problems in the lungs, such as a pulmonary embolism. Known as the ‘economy class syndrome’ due to the cramped conditions in the seating areas, DVT can be easily avoided.

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Goh advises that anyone traveling for more than 4 hours should get up regularly and walk around the airplane’s cabin, perhaps even visiting the bathroom. Make sure you flex both your knees and the muscles in your calves during your flight and wear compression stockings if you or your medical advisor believes you could be more susceptible to problems.

It is also advised that passengers should stay hydrated however this should be soft drinks only as too much alcohol can also cause issues.

Another major piece of advice the older generation is whether they have had any major surgery in the last few weeks, which could cause oxygen to be introduced into the bloodstream, causing injuries internally. For instance, if you have had abdominal surgery your abdominal cavity will most likely have been pumped full of air. Flying before the extra oxygen has dispersed could prove dangerous due to the changes in the air pressure.

Goh agrees saying:

“If the elderly have had knee or hip surgery they have a higher risk of developing DVT after those types of surgeries. We advise waiting six weeks after a hip or knee operation before flying long haul. Shorter flights, when you’re not sitting for so long, pose less risk.”

Another complication older travelers need to consider is their medication. With many of the older generation having to take regular medicines – especially those for long term or serious conditions– it is important that the medicines are taken in to the cabin with them. Passengers that have diabetes in particular should keep their medicines close to hand as some may find that when they are in the air their insulin requirements have changed.

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“Sometimes travelers get stopped by customs asking why they are carrying all these medicines and whether they are fit for travel. I have patients ask me to write them a letter to confirm they are fit for travel and to explain the medications or injectables they need to carry.”

Goh also recommends that all passengers over the age of 70 should visit their medical advisor before traveling for a check up to ensure there are no undiagnosed health issues. For instance, a cold could cause issues such as congested sinuses due to the different air pressure.

It is also worth noting that although these recommendations are for the older traveler, many apply for anyone with a cold. “If someone has a severe cold and they are not taking decongestants, the Eustachian tube, which connects the ears and throat, may become blocked. This can cause pain in the ears and at worst could lead to a burst eardrum.”

The majority of airlines now provide assistance for the older generation, but you have to request it. Brian Tsoi is head of service culture and learning at Cathay Pacific Airways and says their policy is to “not assume that if a person is elderly they are disabled or need extra attention. A lot are fit and healthy”.

If you do require support it is important you let the airline know in advance, usually when you are booking. Some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, even provide an escort for the passenger, helping them to navigate their way through check-in through to the boarding gate, however this is usually when they are traveling alone.

Passengers will also be able to request extra facilities such as a wheelchair service, specifically placed seats – such as near the bathroom.