Health Issues For Ageing Travelers
We are now living longer and as a consequence are travelling well into old age.
While it might be easy enough to book plane tickets to fly half way across the globe, as we get older need to have a greater awareness of the impact that travel can have on our health. Whether you are an ageing traveler or simply taking an older family member away on holiday with you, here we discuss some of the relevant health issues.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Long airplane flights carry risks for the elderly
Although anyone can develop a DVT when immobile for a long period of time during a journey – most commonly associated with air travel, but they can easily occur if you are travelling by car, bus or train – one of the groups at particular risk are those aged over 60. Smokers and anyone who is overweight are at further risk. A DVT occurs when blood collects in the lower legs as a result of inactivity and when this is prolonged blood flow slows, increasing the likelihood of a blood clot forming.
The signs that a DVT has formed is a swollen and painful calf, which is red and warm to the touch. It is essential that treatment with clot busting drugs is received as soon as possible, as if a blood clot breaks off and lodges in the lungs it can be life-threatening. However, the chance of developing a blood clot while you travel can be significantly reduced by taking a few simple steps. Keep as mobile as you can; when possible take short walks and frequently move your feet, ankles and legs while you are sat.
Don’t take sleeping pills to help you nod off during a journey, as this reduces your ability to mobilise during the trip. Avoid dehydration – something that can make clot formation more likely and can be a problem for anyone taking diuretics to treat high blood pressure – by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcoholic drinks before and during your journey. Wearing elastic compression stockings is a good idea, especially if you have other risk factors for DVT.
Disorders of the heart and circulation become increasingly common in our older years. A heart which is working at reduced capacity may struggle with the extra demands that travel can place on it. When flying lower oxygen levels can raise blood pressure and the heart has to work harder; check with your doctor that you are safe to fly if you have a pre-existing heart condition.
We generally tend to be more active when we are on holiday, but don’t overdo things. Altitude can also place a stress on the heart, so if you are heading for the mountains be sensible about where you stay and consider initially staying at a lower altitude to build up tolerance. A poor circulation also makes it more difficult for cuts and bites to heal, as the wounds do not receive such a good blood supply which provides the nutrients necessary for healing; keep an eye out for infection and seek medical assistance if needed.
Travelling with someone who has dementia can be challenging. The change of surroundings can be disorienting, distressing and increase the chance of them becoming agitated. If they are already showing signs of confusion in unfamiliar settings, a strong dislike of being away from home, anxiety in crowded places, challenging or wandersome behavior, travel is best avoided.
However, in the earlier stages of this disease an enjoyable holiday can be had; all that is required is some forward planning. Seek advice from the specialist before you travel, ensure that an identity bracelet is worn while you are away, ask for assistance when required, allow extra time for tasks and minimise the unfamiliar environment – for example keep a light on at night and provide extra help as needed.
Problems with balance are more common in older age. This can often be the result of a medical condition such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or following a stroke. Bear this in mind when choosing your accommodation and destination; staying somewhere with stairs and an uneven terrain is not advisable if you want to avoid falls.
If you do fall, a fracture is more likely, as your bones lose strength with age, particularly if you suffer from osteoporosis. Maintain the health of your bones through a balanced diet, regular weight bearing exercise as able, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and discuss with your doctor whether you need to take a calcium and Vitamin D supplement.
Health Issues for Ageing Travelers
Immune function declines with age, so older travelers are more likely to pick up infections while they are away. This is particularly the case with those that are food or water borne, as a reduction in stomach acid production – which would usually help to destroy ingested bacteria – leaves you vulnerable to food poisoning. Dehydration can become an issue during bouts of diarrhea, as the sensation of thirst decreases as we get older, so a reduced fluid intake compounds the already increased fluid losses.
Deteriorating kidney function also makes it difficult for the body to cope with the loss of salt in diarrhea. Ensuring sensible precautions are taken to minimize the risk of consuming contaminated food and water can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea, but if you are struck down with it, keeping well hydrated and taking oral re-hydration preparations is vital to prevent further problems.
Above all, be prepared. Make sure you have got the necessary travel insurance, visit your doctor for a medical before you leave and take enough medication with you to last at least the whole trip; a couple of extra day’s worth doesn’t hurt in case you are unexpectedly away longer than you anticipate due to delayed travel on your return journey.
It’s also wise to carry a list of your medical conditions and which medications you take, as these will be essential should you fall ill while you are away.
Hopefully with your knowledge and preparation, everything will go smoothly and the rest and relaxation will do wonders for your health.
Image Sources: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dreamliner_render_787-8.JPG?uselang=en-gb, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_man_and_tourists.jpg