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Ensuring safe travel for seniors

Vacation: Dr. Michael Garcia offers some tips to enable you not to run into many common problems

Posted: July 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Whatever your mode of transportation, it’s important for seniors to be prepared when they travel. Whatever your mode of transportation, it’s important for seniors to be prepared when they travel.
Whatever your mode of transportation, it’s important for seniors to be prepared when they travel.

It’s summer, the season of travel. Whether you’re heading out on a plane, train or automobile, there are special considerations seniors should make to ensure the safest possible trip, according to Dr. Michael Garcia, endocrinologist and staff physician at Valencia’s Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Garcia placed a well-written medication list, including emergency contact information, as the most important item for seniors to carry when traveling.

“Many seniors are on multiple medications, and if they get sick and need to see a doctor or go to the emergency room, the medication list will provide vital information for the health care team,” Garcia said. “The type of medication will provide information about your illness, while the dose will provide information about its severity.”

Prior to departing, bring enough medication to last throughout the trip. Look at the medication list to ensure each medication has been included, and have a second party verify that everything is in order.

“You’d be surprised at how many people leave all or some of their medications at home,” Garcia said.

Garcia also suggested taking along prescriptions for each medication — helpful when dealing with airport security (and also handy for refills). 

“Many times, medications have been confiscated by security if not well-marked, so to be extra safe, carry the prescription, the original bottle and/or receipt of your medications,” he said.

Medications should be kept out of direct sunlight and extreme hot or cold temperatures. The effectiveness of insulin, for example, can be diminished if it gets too hot.

Stay hydrated
Always carry bottled water while you are traveling.

“Dehydration is a very big issue. Many times in an airplane, bus or train, you don’t have access to water. Whereas at home, when you are thirsty, you just go to the faucet,” Garcia said.

He recommended taking small sips of water frequently to avoid getting really thirsty. This helps to avoid fatigue, headache and muscle cramps. Only drink bottled water, especially when traveling overseas.

Getting to your destination can involve a lot of sitting time. It’s important to make it a point to get out of the car, or the bus, train or airplane seat, consistently.

“Walk as much as possible and at a minimum of every two hours. If in a car, stop at a rest area and walk 15 minutes,” Garcia said. “If this is not done, you may have an increased risk of developing a deep venous thrombosis, or blood clot, in your legs. If this blood clot travels to the heart or lungs, it can become a pulmonary embolism, which is fatal.”

Of course, walking can also be fun, as Garcia illustrated.

“One of the best ways to explore a new place you are visiting is to walk. Always have one or more walking buddies accompany you. It is safer and actually more fun when you walk with others,” he said. “Walking is the best exercise tip, it even helps jet lag.”

Garcia suggested taking frequent breaks during long walking excursions and bringing along bottled water to stay hydrated.

Keep it covered
With summer often comes intense heat, which can be of particular concern to seniors.

“Seniors are at a much higher risk of heat stroke,” Garcia noted.

As such, Garcia recommends wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and hats, whenever you’ll be exposed to the sun. This includes overcast days, when rays seem to be hidden but can still cause damage.

Anyone spending more than 15 minutes outdoors should apply sunscreen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, especially for those with fair skin or a family history of skin cancer. A Sun Protection Factor of at least 30 is recommended and the sunscreen should protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Wraparound sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection are also a great idea to shield a senior’s sensitive eyes from the sometimes-harsh effects of the sun.

Adventures in food
While it may be tempting to indulge your culinary curiosity, especially in an exotic locale, Garcia urged caution.

“Eating at roadside or street food stands is a delicious way to experience a new culture. However, you do run an increased risk of contracting an infection, which could then ruin your entire trip,” he said.

To avoid such calamities, Garcia suggested researching the area you will be visiting in advance and gathering information on where the best and safest street food stalls are.

Just make sure to stay away from the raw stuff and unknown water sources.
“Always eat cooked food, and drink bottled water,” Garcia said.


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