Helping older loved ones fly safely

With preparation, many older people can fly safely. GP Dr Tim Ross offers some tips to help keep seniors healthy in the air.

Whether it’s a sightseeing adventure or visiting family and friends, many older people love to travel. If you’re helping an elderly loved one prepare for a flight, you might have some concerns about their health and safety. But knowing the risks and taking some precautions can help them to stay healthy during air travel.

Physical limitations to consider

Dr Tim Ross, Director of Aged Care Medical Services at Bupa, advises that the recommendations for healthy older travelers taking a flight are pretty much the same as for younger people – plenty of movement and plenty of hydration. 

Dr Ross says, “From a physical point of view, it’s very important that older people maintain their mobility, so they don’t want to be sitting in a seat for long periods of time. They need to get up and go for small walks around the plane.” 

Older people are at higher risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – where a blood clot forms in a deep vein of the leg for example – and flying for longer than four hours can increase this risk. Dr Ross suggests being diligent with in-flight exercises such as ankle circles, foot pumps and knee lifts. If you’re caring for elderly parents it’s best to teach them these movements prior to the flight.

Medical issues such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and mobility problems can also increase the risk of blood clots. Dr Ross suggests older travellers speak to their GP before a trip in order to seek personalised health advice. “Depending on their medical history, sometimes taking an aspirin before travel can help prevent blood clots in the legs, but that’s very dependent on what their other health conditions are.” They may also be on medications that prevent them from taking aspirin so it’s best to check with their GP first.

Compression tights or pressure stockings help blood flow in the legs and can help to reduce the risk of clotting. These can be purchased in pharmacies or online.
Elderly woman with son at airport

Psychological issues to consider

For some seniors, travel might be physically fine but mentally difficult. Some older people experience issues such as forgetfulness, confusion or stress in unfamiliar situations. Dr Ross advises that it’s important to give clear, simple directions. “It’s about containing the confusion and the foreign feeling of the situation they are in. Keep them focused on one thing and take it step by step.” 
When travelling overseas, be mindful of changing time zones. Encourage your loved one to sleep at the appropriate times and lay low for the first few days upon arrival at the destination. They should also ask their doctor for advice about when to take their medicines when travelling to a different time zone.

> Travelling soon? Learn more about Bupa Travel Insurance

The logistics of travelling with seniors

It’s important to make things as easy as you can when flying with elderly parents or friends. When packing, be sure to pack light. Avoid cumbersome luggage and try not to have too many individual items to keep track of. One small suitcase with wheels is usually best.
If your loved one has physical incapacities, such as being reliant on a walking stick or walking frame, Dr Ross recommends contacting the airline beforehand to organise a wheelchair.
Medical insurance is a particularly good idea for seniors, especially when travelling overseas. It’s also important to double check that any existing medical conditions are noted on the insurance policy as even a short stay in hospital could leave you with a hefty bill.
Age doesn’t have to be a barrier when it comes to travel. With an adventurous spirit and a little preparation, your loved ones can continue to experience new places in Australia and around the world safely.

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Bupa Travel Insurance is distributed by Bupa HI Pty Ltd ABN 81 000 057 590 an authorised representative of the issuer, Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681. Any advice is general only and does not take into account your personal circumstances. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to see if this product is right for you.

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