Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S.
For many, summer means vacation and fun in the sun. Your elderly loved one need not be left home alone to wait for those “check-in” phone calls from the beach. With proper planning on your part, they can come along and spend precious bonding time with the family, making the getaway truly unforgettable.
Of course, health is the paramount issue when traveling with seniors. Whether you go to an exotic locale or a neighboring state, these tips should help you navigate the vacation smoothly.
- Ask the doctor. Before embarking on any trip, make sure you get the doctor’s OK that the senior is fit to travel. Be sure to bring along contact information for all their doctors.
- Be mindful of the destination. Just as you would plan a kid-friendly vacation for the younger set, make this one “elder friendly.” Consider their physical needs when planning where to go, where to stay, and the daily activities.
- Don’t overschedule. The itinerary must work for a senior’s physical capability. Don’t overload the schedule with attractions. Make sure there is a mix of demanding activity and relaxing time. A morning museum trip couldbe balanced with a leisurely lunch and trip to the beach. Bus tours are an easy way to sightsee, and cruises are even better.
- Make medications a priority. You must bring enough prescription, non-prescription, and supplement pills with you to last the entire vacation—and a little longer in case your return is delayed. Getting refills immediately will be challenging, especially internationally. Make sure they are in a carry-on bag. Do not place them in your checked luggage!. Use an ice pack if necessary, and avoid direct sunlight. Bring a full list of medications and supplements with dosages, and ask the doctor to amend the medication schedule to account for any time differences.
- Get traveler’s insurance to cover all the bases. Don’t take chances when it comes to traveling with someone frail. Trip-cancellation insurance can be quite handy should the senior unexpectedly be unable to make the trip. While on the trip, have supplemental travel health insurance in place. Many health-insurance plans do not cover expenses out of network or internationally.
- Medical evacuation insurance can be a lifesaver. If G‑d forbid something happens, you do not want your loved one stuck in a place with subpar care at this fragile age. I have heard horror stories of dirty hospitals and shoddy surgery that no one should experience. Make sure you understand exactly what you are buying and entitled to in terms of covered medical transportation and whether a family escort is included. Though not insurance, consider using Medjet Assist, a service that repatriates member patients anywhere in the world from any hospital to the hospital of their choice.
- Make accommodations for the flight. Order a cost-free wheelchair when you make your reservations so the senior can easily make their way to the gate. Besides, it gives the group priority at security. Ask for disability-friendly seating on the plane and make sure to have them get up and walk around to stretch and avoid blood clots; support hose can help.
- Book a good flight. It’s best to take non-stop flights to avoid getting on and off planes and hanging around the airport more than necessary. Don’t forget to book flights that coincide with their peak energy hours—not too early or late in the day.
- Pack light. This is good advice for any age, but especially for seniors who have limited strength and extra needed space for paraphernalia such as hearing aids, canes, medications, and the like.
- Get around the easy way. Hotels in the city center may be easier for getting to attractions. Subways mean a lot of steps, so stick to buses and taxis. Senior discounts for admissions and fares can help defray some of the cost associated with these extra accommodations.
- Be organized. Brings two copies of everything pertaining to your senior so you each can have one: list of doctors, list of medications and supplements, documentation of supplemental insurance policies, and copies of their current insurance coverage, as well as any travel documents.
- Consider using a professional. A host of services have sprung up to service aging baby boomers; among them are travel consultants that deal with vacations for the elderly, either alone or with their family. AssistedVacation.com is one such service that considers the needs of the whole traveling party and structures an appropriate vacation. AARP is chock-full of information and offers easy vacations through its Road Scholar program.
Just because someone is old, it doesn’t mean they can’t have fun along with everyone else. It’s a two-way street; the vacation will lift their spirits and divert them from a life increasingly filled with loss. Conversely, their sagacity and wit will enhance both the vacation and the family’s relationship with them. This precious time will help younger members of the family appreciate them even more; both now and when they are no longer with us. Bon Voyage!