An elderly traveller enjoying himself!

Many older people successfully travel, often long distances, for holidays both at home and abroad, even for challenging adventures such as trekking or mountaineering. They commonly visit relatives involving long air flights.

  • Cruises are popular with the elderly although increasingly younger people enjoy this sort of holiday which allows a variety of interesting on-shore visits with a return to familiar first-rate hospitality in the evenings.
A disabled traveller planning her next trip

Aging usually brings some decline in bodily functions.

  • However the speed and degree to which this happens is very variable and the decline may be delayed by not smoking, a healthy diet, avoiding being overweight and an active lifestyle.

  • The stress of travel, as well as the physical and mental demands of the trip, can all take their toll. Travel plans and itineraries should keep this in mind.

All the advice given in previous lessons on air, road and rail travel apply

Air travel

The airport

Problems begin at the airport which can be a confusing environment and involve carrying heavy baggage over long distances on foot to and from departure gates.

  • Reducing the size of cabin bags is an obvious way of minimising this.

  • Wheelchairs or motorised buggies should be booked in advance of travel.

On board the plane

On long flights, older passengers are more likely to suffer from joint stiffness, swollen ankles and may be more prone to deep vein thrombosis if there are underlying medical conditions.

  • Moving around a full cabin to reach the toilet may be difficult.

  • If a walk around the aircraft at regular intervals is possible this is a good idea.

  • Regular exercises, especially of the feet and legs are advisable but may be difficult to implement.

  • Taking adequate non-alcoholic drinks is important in the dry cabin atmosphere but this may, for some, make the need for the toilet more likely.

Health risks while abroad

Travellers' diarrhoea is more common in the young than in older travellers who probably take fewer risks with food and water.

  • However older travellers are at increased risk of chest infections or even pneumococcal septicaemia which can complicate seeming simple respiratory illnesses.

  • Dehydration following a diarrhoeal illness may be more serious in the elderly.

  • The elderly, especially if they have any chronic or recurrent illnesses requiring medications, are wise to seek advice from their general practitioner before confirming bookings.

(See also advice for those with pre-existing medical conditions in course 8)

Vaccine considerations for the elderly

As with any traveller, the elderly need to consider protection against vaccine-preventable diseases relevant for their destination and intended activities.

  • They should ensure all vaccines recommended for their particular journey are up to date including influenza and pneumococcal vaccines which in the UK are already part of the national schedule for the elderly. Younger travellers may need to pay for these.

Yellow fever vaccination for the elderly

Careful consideration of risk is needed before giving a first dose of yellow fever vaccine to the elderly

Because this is a live vaccine, it can occasionally cause serious adverse effects when it is given for the first time. The likelihood of this happening increases slightly in those over 60 years of age.

  • Special care must be taken to ensure this vaccine is essential for the traveller’s itinerary.

  • The disease is spread by the mosquito and very rarely, usually in cities where there are current urban outbreaks. from human to human.

  • If the elderly are travelling to high-risk yellow fever areas which usually means very rural parts, into the jungle or during reported urban outbreaks the vaccine must still be considered. See TRAVAX or TraveHealthPro websites for risk areas and any outbreak reports.

  • If there is a reason why a traveller cannot receive the vaccine an exemption certificate can be offered which will usually, but not always, be accepted by border health authorities (difficulties are more likely at land border crossing than in airports). An exemption page for completion is now included with most official yellow fever vaccination certificates.

Books on the elderly traveller: from Iamat: The older traveller and from the BGTHA Travel and health in older people