The retirement years can be an exciting time to see the world, and travel is easier and safer than ever before for seniors. With a little planning and some caution, seniors can safely visit almost any destination.
All travelers, including seniors, should see a doctor for a pre-travel visit, ideally 4–6 weeks before they travel, although even a last-minute visit can be helpful. The doctor should be told about illnesses the traveler has and medicines he or she is taking, since this will influence medical decisions. In addition to providing vaccines, medicine, and advice for keeping healthy, a doctor can conduct a physical exam to assess a senior’s fitness for travel. Seniors should consider their physical limitations when planning a trip. Seniors with heart disease, for example, might choose an itinerary that does not involve strenuous activities. Seniors may also have a hard time recovering from jet lag and motion sickness, so they should take these factors into account when planning a trip.
Before travel, seniors should have information about their destination that could affect their health, such as the altitude and climate. They should be aware of whether the destination is prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, since seniors may have more problems in those extreme situations.
Before travel, seniors should be up-to-date on routine vaccines, such as measles/mumps/rubella and seasonal flu. Some of these may be considered “childhood” vaccines, but the diseases they protect against are often more common in other countries than in the United States. More than half of tetanus cases are in people over 65, so seniors should consider getting a tetanus booster before they travel.
Use of some vaccines may be restricted on the basis of age or chronic illnesses. Yellow fever vaccine, for example, should be given cautiously to people older than 60 years, and it should not be given at all to people with certain immune-suppressing conditions. Seniors should discuss their detailed travel plans with their doctors and, if necessary, alternatives to vaccination.
A doctor may prescribe medicine for malaria, altitude illness, or travelers’ diarrhea; seniors should make sure the doctor knows any other medications they take, to watch out for possible drug interactions. Travelers’ diarrhea is common and may be more serious in seniors, so seniors should also follow food and water precautions.
In addition to medicine prescribed specifically for travel, seniors are likely to take other medicines regularly, such as medicines for high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis. They should plan to pack enough medicine for the duration of the trip, plus a few days’ extra in case of travel delays. Counterfeit drugs may be common overseas, so seniors should take only medicine they bring from the United States.
Prescription medicine should always be carried in its original container, along with a copy of the prescription, and all medicine should be packed in carry-on luggage, in case checked luggage gets lost.
Although exotic infections make the headlines, injury is the most common cause of preventable death among travelers. Seniors can minimize their risk of serious injury by following these guidelines:
- Always wear a seatbelt.
- Don’t ride in cars after dark in developing countries.
- Avoid small, local planes.
- Don’t travel at night in questionable areas.
In addition, seniors should consider purchasing supplemental travel health insurance in case of injury or illness overseas. Many health plans, including Medicare, will not pay for services received outside the United States. Seniors who are planning travel to remote areas should consider purchasing evacuation insurance, which will pay for emergency transportation to a qualified hospital.
For more information on healthy travel, visit www.cdc.gov/travel.