The Older Traveller
Summer is over, the leaves are falling, and the rain and cold weather have set in. There is no better time to start planning your next winter getaway. Did you know that if you are over the age of 60 you make up a large proportion of Canadian travellers? Whether it’s a week at an all-inclusive resort, a cruise through South America, an African safari, or a tour to experience the cultures of South East Asia, there are important considerations for the older traveller no matter where your destination may be.
As people age there is a natural weakening of the immune system, which could make older travellers more susceptible to travel related illnesses. Many older travellers have chronic health conditions or take medications, so there may be a bit of extra planning involved in your next trip. Below we’ll outline some important considerations for travellers over 60.
Visit a Travel Clinic!
Before leaving on your trip, consider booking a pre-travel consultation. This is a great opportunity to discuss what vaccinations you may require before you depart to your winter destination, what health risks to be aware of, and how to prevent illness while travelling. Booking a consult is easy! Simply book online or give us a call. Our expert staff will ensure that you receive the proper vaccinations based on your health history and your travel destination. We are always up to date when it comes to disease outbreaks or health warnings around the globe, which enables us to provide the best advice and information to you. Having the peace of mind of knowing that you are prepared and protected before you depart is invaluable!
Recommendations for travel vaccines will vary depending on your destination, vaccination history, and disease history. In addition to travel vaccines the following routine vaccines are recommended for travellers over the age of 60:
- Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis – The tetanus/diphtheria vaccine is recommended every 10 years. A one-time booster dose of pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended for all adults. This is especially important if you have very young grandchildren, as they are at higher risk of complications if they get whooping cough.
- Influenza–The last thing you want is to come down with the flu just before your trip or during your trip. While winter is a great time to travel it also means you are travelling through airports and on airplanes during cold and flu season. The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is to get your flu vaccine every year. If you are over 65 you can get your flu shot for free at your doctor or pharmacy. For more information about the flu vaccine and who qualifies for a free shot, visit our blog about the flu vaccine: https://travelsafeclinic.ca/its-time-for-your-flu-shot/
- Pneumonia– If you are over 65 you may be more susceptible to getting pneumonia. There are 2 pneumococcal vaccines that can prevent several types of pneumococcal infections.Prevnar13protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, and Pneumovax23 protects against 23 strains.The Prevnar13 vaccine has been shown to be more immunogenic (produces a stronger immune response) than the Pneumovax23 vaccine, so it is better to receive the Prevnar vaccine first followed by Pneumovax23 at least 8 weeks later. If Pneumovax23 is given first, then Prevnar13 should be given at least a year later.
- Shingles– Anyone who has had chicken pox can develop shingles later in life. The risk of getting shingles often increases with age, as your immune system starts to naturally weaken. The Shingrix vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing shingles in people older than 50, including those who are 70-85 years of age. For more information about the Shingrix vaccine, visit our blog: https://travelsafeclinic.ca/an-update-on-the-shingrix-vaccine/
Yellow Fever Vaccine
Yellow fever is potentially serious and life-threatening disease spread by mosquitos found in certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South America. The yellow fever vaccine is generally recommended for travellers to these risk areas. The vaccine may also be a requirement to enter certain countries.
The vaccine is safe and effective, and a single dose provides life-long protection. Common side effects are usually mild and can include headache, muscle aches and fever. Serious reactions to the vaccine, including organ failure or neurologic disease, are extremely rare. For this reason, people who are severely immunosuppressed should not receive the yellow fever vaccine.
People ≥60 years of age may be at increased risk for a serious reaction to the vaccine, particularly if receiving the vaccine for the first time ever. The risk of a severe reaction in people ≥60 years of age is 7.7 per 100,000 doses administered, compared with 3.8 per 100,000 for all YF vaccine recipients. The yellow fever vaccine has safely been given to many people ≥60 years of age who will be at risk for yellow fever disease. The experienced consultants at TravelSafe Clinic will weigh the risks and benefits of the vaccine based on your travel plans. If the risk of the disease is relatively low and it is determined that you should not receive the vaccine due to medical reasons or age, a yellow fever waiver can be provided if proof of yellow fever vaccination is needed for travel.
Quick Tips for Travelling with Chronic Health Conditions and Medications
- Visit your primary care provider before travelling to ensure any chronic illness are well controlled.
- Consider a travel destination that has access to quality care that could manage your health condition.
- Medications should be packed in your carry-on luggage in the event your checked baggage is lost or stolen.
- Keep medications in their original containers with your name and medication dose.
- Avoid putting medications into smaller containers or daily-dose containers so that all medications can be easily identified by border officials.
- Prescription medication in liquid form is exempt from liquid restrictions when flying but be sure to present these to the screening officer separate from your carry-on bag.
- Bring enough medication to last your entire trip, plus an extra supply in case you are away longer than expected.
- Travel with a list of your prescriptions, including generic medication names, in case of loss or theft. Translating the names of medications in the local language of your destination can be very helpful.
Older travellers are at higher risk of developing blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Long distance travel, especially by air, has been associated with the development of DVTs and can be a serious medical emergency. Some things you can do to prevent DVTs during long distance travel include:
- Walking around as much as possible
- Sitting in an aisle seat on flights to promote frequent ambulation
- Wearing loose fitted clothing that is not tight at the knees or waist
- Performing frequent leg exercises
- Avoiding sitting with legs crossed
- Wearing below-knee graduated compression stockings providing 15-30mm Hg of pressure at the ankle if you have risk factors of a blood clot (not recommended for those without risk factors)
- Talk to your doctor before travel if you think you may be at high risk of developing a blood clot
See our blog for more information about DVTs https://travelsafeclinic.ca/preventing-blood-clots-during-travel/
As with all things in life it is important to expect the unexpected. Purchasing travel medical insurance before travelling will help with the financial aspects in the event of the unexpected. The cost of travel insurance will be higher for the older traveller, as older travellers are more likely to use it. There are 3 types of travel insurance to consider:
- Trip cancellation in the event of an illness
- Medical insurance to cover costs of health care obtained in foreign countries
- Medical evacuation insurance
Carefully review the terms, conditions, exclusions and requirements of your insurance policy so you know what’s coveredand ensure the plan will cover pre-existing medical conditions.
Travelling is a great way to stay young at heart. It’s never too late to see the world! Contact us if you have any questions, or to book your travel consultation. Let us help you prepare for your trip!
TravelSafe Clinical Educator – Kristin Cain, RN, BSc, MSc(A)