Whether you have fond memories of lazy days on the beach or adventures in exotic locales, now that your loved one is getting older taking a family vacation may seem more difficult than it once was. You may even be wondering if your days of family vacations are over.
While your family vacation will be different than before, that doesn’t mean you can’t travel with an older loved one. Let’s explore some tips to make vacationing easier for the older traveler.
1. Schedule a check-up.
An important first step is making sure your loved one is cleared for travel by his or her primary care doctor, especially if they have a health condition that may require accommodation. Visiting the doctor before travels will allow them to assess and address any medical conditions that could hinder travel plans.
If you are traveling out of the country your loved one may also need vaccines recommended for the countries they are visiting. The easiest way to find out if you or your loved one needs additional vaccinations is to check with the Center for Disease Control by visiting http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. The CDC site will have the most updated information as to what shots you will need for each country. This way, you can take the information with you when you visit the doctor. Your primary doctor will know if there is any reason to be concerned about the recommended travel overseas.
2. Make a list of medications in advance.
Ask your loved one’s doctor for specific travel tips as well as any necessary medications. In addition to keeping up your loved one’s regular medication regimen while traveling, the doctor may also recommend additional medications such as remedies for motion sickness, altitude illness, or diarrhea. Remember – it’s important to watch out for possible drug interactions between your loved one’s daily medications and any new medications that are recommended for travel!
If you are checking any bags, it’s recommended to travel with your loved one’s medications in a carry-on in case your luggage is lost. Pack enough medicine for the duration of the trip, plus a few days’ extra in case of travel delays. Additionally, if your loved one has some health concerns and you are traveling out of the country you may want to consider purchasing a travel health insurance package.
3. Strategize your flight times.
Older adults may no longer have the energy they once had and multiple connections and/or travelling early in the morning or late at night can be exhausting. Booking a nonstop flight reduces travel time and planning a mid-morning or early afternoon departure can help avoid your loved one becoming fatigued before you reach your destination. If it has been a while since your loved one has traveled they may be a little anxious so you may want to talk to their doctor about a mild anxiety medication. Anticipate your loved one might be anxious – even the most experienced travelers can find travel to be an anxiety-inducing experience.
4. Request assistance ahead of time.
Before you travel, consider accommodations your loved one may need. Does he or she use a wheelchair or need special seating? You can request an escort from airport staff to help get your loved one to their seat, stow their bags, or simply enjoy the ease of boarding before other passengers.
Seniors are able to request assistance in the airport from the time they arrive to the time they board and can request assistance getting to the gate by asking at the check-in desk for a ride on a cart or assistance with a wheelchair. Additionally, seniors requiring special assistance can board before other travelers through priority boarding.
Don’t forget to plan for accommodations at your destination as well! If your loved one requires accommodations on your trip, make sure that you contact your destinations to ensure that tours and rooms meet your requirements.
5. Plan activities sparingly.
When traveling with an older loved one you may have to take it slower than you normally would and account for their need to lie down and relax more frequently. Everyone is different, but in many cases planning just one activity before lunch is enough and some downtime between lunch and dinner is preferred. Fortunately the same schedule often works well for families with young children, so inter-generational travel can work out surprisingly well!
Also think about planning indoor activities for you and your loved one, whether to account for possible bad weather days or because your loved one simply doesn’t feel up to going out one day. Building in time for activities like watching old movies, playing card games and/or creating a memory book of your travels are all possible activities. If your loved one receives care at home and you will be traveling without hired assistance, speak with the person who is most involved with your loved one’s care to get some ideas about things they like to do and their daily routine. Don’t forget to ask about favorite foods and snacks!
6. Consider hiring help.
An Aging Life Care Professional can help you develop a personalized plan for your travels including identifying potential challenges and options to make the best of your travels – even with medical and functional challenges. For example, a care manager can help connect you with a companion, special equipment, ensure you have appropriate documentation and accommodations – and more.
Finally, don’t forget to have the time of your life. Safe travels!
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About the author: Claudia Fine, LCSW, MPH, CMC is a pioneer in the field of geriatric care management and has served in industry and community leadership roles throughout her 30-year career in elder care. She is the Chief of Professional Services at SeniorBridge, a national health care company offering individually tailored care management and home care services, and a past president of the Aging Life Care Association. Email Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org.