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Holiday Travel: Keep Elders Safe Both on the Ground and in the Air

12/1/2016
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The holidays bring tidings of joy and time-honored traditions to those who celebrate. They also bring travel plans for families and friends far and wide.

Travel might be one of the best gifts of the season, especially for the elderly, many of whom miss out on seeing their grandchildren or great-grandchildren because of the distance between them and their loved ones. But before putting Grandma or Grandpa on an airplane, it is wise to do some planning and research in an effort to ensure no harm or injury results from that 2½ -hour flight from Florida to New Jersey – or wherever they are coming from and going to.

Happy seniors taking a walk in the park on sunny day

Travelling with your elder relatives

“When planning air travel for elderly, remember nice and easy does it,” reads a headline in an article written by airline transport pilot Dana Carr.

Carr took his father, a smoker of 60-plus years who had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to Las Vegas.

“Dad loved playing slot machines and to him, Vegas was the ultimate vacation destination,” Carr writes.

The COPD presented a major problem, however. Flying at high altitudes means there is an environment of thin air. Yes, the cabin is pressurized, but the air is less-dense and will cause breathing difficulties for those with respiratory disorders. Check with a healthcare professional in such instances. He or she might advise traveling with a supply of oxygen to make the trip “nice and easy.”

“Just one to three liters of O2 can make all the difference,” Carr writes. “Most major airlines allow the use of portable oxygen concentrators, when accompanied by a prescription signed by a doctor.”

The Web site Caring.com also recommends checking with an aging traveler’s doctor beforehand and offers several other tips to prevent slips and falls, loss of medication and anxiety or discomfort while flying.

  • Call ahead for wheelchair assistance. It often is a long walk from the baggage-check area to the gate and might tire out an elderly passenger prior to takeoff. Wheelchair assistance is readily available and usually free, except for a tip. The attendant also will help at the baggage-claim area and wheel the elderly passenger to a pick-up place.
  • Pack a cane or a folding walker. They can make a vacation more enjoyable for an older person in unfamiliar surroundings with different terrain and colder, windier weather.
  • Carry on medications. Lost luggage can mean a loss of health if an elderly person has vital or, sometimes life-saving medications packed in his or her suitcase. Medications should remain with the traveler at all times.
  • Stay hydrated. “Airplanes are notoriously dehydrating due to their low humidity, and the best defense against this is to drink plenty of fluids before, after, and during a flight,” according to a blog on Caring.com.
  • Wiggle legs and feet. Deep-vein thrombosis can occur from extended periods of sitting, as on a cross-country flight. And blot clots can be fatal. By moving the lower extremities every hour or more and by getting up and walking up and down the aisles as permitted by the captain, the risk of blood clots can be reduced.

Lastly, find out where the care clinics and hospitals are at the destination in case of an emergency.

“Flying can be physically exhausting for anyone, but for seniors with health issues or physical limitations it can be extremely challenging,” Jim Miller, creator of SavvySenior.org, writes in The Huffington Post.

“Remember nice and easy does it.”

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