Emory Report Extra
July 24, 2009

Checklist for travel with your senior companion

  • Identification
  • List of all physicians & telephone numbers
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency contact information
  • Insurance card and
    out-of-network health insurance info
  • List of health issues
  • Vaccinations up-to-date
  • Walker, wheelchair, or cane in good condition
  • Nightlights or leave bathroom light on
  • Spare pair of glasses and sunglasses
  • Extra hearing aid batteries
  • Favorite pillow, blanket or sweater
  • Hand sanitizing gel or hand wipes
  • Extra undergarments
  • Proper clothing for the weather
  • Plenty of water
  • Skin lotion
  • Sunscreen and hat
  • Comfortable shoes


Emory Report homepage  

July 24, 2009
Tips for summer travel with your senior companion

By Kay Hearn

Whether you drive, fly or reach your destination by cruise ship, travel with older adults takes planning and research, but does not have to be stressful.

For decades, Ted Johnson has traveled with his mother for both business and pleasure. With his mother living in Oregon, travel through airports is unavoidable. Johnson is an internist and geriatrician who is division chief of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Emory School of Medicine. He is also on the medical staff at the Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital, the 100-bed Emory Hospital designed to care for senior citizens and at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Johnson’s expertise in traveling with the “over-55” set comes not only from his medical school credentials, but as a son committed to making trips enjoyable and comfortable.

During their travels together, Johnson always gives his mom a packing list or itinerary detailing their trip, to make sure she packs appropriately and lightly. The packing list includes what to wear and where they will be visiting during the trip. Managing luggage in a busy airport can be hard for anyone so it is important for travelers to pack lightly to maneuver luggage with ease.

Johnson advises that when taking a trip, be aware of heat and walking distances. A learning experience for him and his mother came during a visit to New Orleans in June. The heat was so blistering that most of the places they went, cabs had to be taken. It was simply too much walking and too hot for his mother to be in the heat for prolonged periods of time. How do you know when the heat is too much for your companion? Johnson advises “watch for a red face, unusual fatigue, unsteady gait, slower walking, and dehydration. It is particularly worrisome when they stop sweating, too.” He suggests a wide brimmed hat, to help ward off the sun’s rays.

Senior citizens are more susceptible to disease and illness when traveling. The heightened susceptibility comes, in part, from being away from home, out of their normal routine and exposure to new people (and germs). One of the first things to do before traveling is to speak with your senior companion’s doctor. Make sure that the doctor gives an okay and they are prepared to handle health or mobility issues that could compromise travel. For example, airlines have guidelines for the use of oxygen tanks onboard. These rules may make air travel more challenging.

Once the doctor has given an okay, think about what prescriptions are needed during the trip. As a precaution when flying, make sure to keep all drugs in a carry-on bag. That way, if the checked luggage does not make it to the final destination, your companion will still have needed medications. Keep your physician’s number on hand in case of an emergency that might arise on your vacation.

Insurance is another item to think through. “One thing that most travelers are not aware of is the importance of supplemental health insurance for travel,” says Phyllis Kozarsky, medical director of Travel Well, a pre- and post-travel clinic based at Emory University Hospital Midtown. “It comes in three forms: trip cancellation insurance, supplemental medical insurance and medical evacuation insurance.” Each of these forms are equally important to ensure that even if your trip has to be cancelled or if illness occurs, your senior travel companion is covered. Kozarsky also reminds travelers to make sure to all vaccinations are up-to-date, especially if traveling out of the country.

If your senior travel companion has limited mobility or health problems, make preparations so your final destination is reached safely. Transportation is one key to a comfortable trip. If a wheelchair, walker or cane is needed, check to see if you can rent or use one while you are in the airport, train station or other stops during your journey. Your destination may require that you drive, be sure to arrange plenty of stops so your senior companion can move around and stimulate circulation in the legs. This movement is also important if flying. Also, remember that traveling can cause motion sickness. Pack motion sickness medication or ammonia-based smelling salts to ward off an upset stomach.

Traveling with slight to moderate dementia, calls for special precautions. In addition to making sure someone is with the traveler at all times, be sure your senior travel companion has easily visible identification with a contact number of someone traveling with them.

Johnson also advises to take special care when venturing through airport security lines. “The security lines can be very disorientating and TSA agents may give instructions that end up separating the family members from one another.” Travelers might have a family member go through security first so the senior traveler can see someone they recognize ahead of them. Johnson cautions that, sometimes, it may be best not to travel with an elderly family member who needs significant medical attention. If there is not a family member or trusted friend to care for the elderly person, families may want to explore respite, or short-term, care for the vacation period. This gives the family caregivers a chance to relax and insure that their loved one is cared for.

Planning ahead will ensure a safe trip for all.