5 Benefits of Travel

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen once said, “To travel is to live.” The prolific writer’s words hold especially true for seniors, who may find they now have the time and means to explore locales they couldn’t get to when they were younger.

“Travel is stimulating and interesting, particularly for people who travel internationally,” says infectious disease specialist Keith Armitage, MD.

He says seniors benefit from travel by:

  1. Enriching their lives as they learn about a location’s history, culture, geography, architecture and cuisine.
  2. Relaxing, depending on the type of trip. Who doesn’t love to get a spa treatment or dine at a fabulous restaurant?
  3. Maintaining their fitness level – again, depending on the goals of the vacation. Playing 18 holes of golf and taking a walking tour of Paris’s art museums both qualify as exercise.
  4. Escaping bad weather, whether it be snowy winters or too-humid summers.
  5. Keeping depression at bay.
    “Not that travel is an antidote to depression, but certainly doing things stimulating with friends and family is a way to age successfully,” he says.

Still, older travelers should take extra precautions, particularly when visiting spots outside of the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia or Japan, Dr. Armitage says. But if they are able to go, they should go.

“Travel for people who are elderly and have some frailty isn’t without risk from falls or needing medical care, so they need to calculate the risk-benefit ratio,” he says. “But travel is fun and it adds so much richness to life.”

To ensure the trip you're planning is a positive and healthful experience, Dr. Armitage suggests:

  1. Scheduling a consultation (before your vacation) with your personal physician or with an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine. Established in 1972, it is the first travelers' clinic in the U.S. and serves 4,000 to 5,000 people yearly.

    The travel medicine center's services include:

    • Recommended vaccines based on where you're traveling
    • Strategies to protect against malaria, typhoid and insect-borne diseases
    • Advice about safe eating and drinking habits in various regions, as well as lifestyle and security recommendations, such as swimming, exercise and travel
    • One-on-one help for any chronic health conditions you may have, such as heart disease, diabetes or hormone imbalances
    • Preventative prescriptions for medical problems that could affect your trip, such as traveler's diarrhea, altitude sickness or motion sickness
    • Verification and update of your routine vaccinations
  2. Asking your doctor for a document summarizing your medical history, so a doctor in a different city or foreign country can treat you quickly and effectively in case of an emergency.
  3. Making sure you have an ample supply of all medications and keeping them in your carry-on luggage.
  4. Getting a flu shot. This reduces the risk of catching the bug if you encounter an infected traveler.
  5. Being aware that some elderly people have trouble coping with high altitudes. Ask your doctor to assess your heart and lung function to determine if you are at risk.
  6. Contacting airlines ahead of time if you need accommodations, such as a wheelchair.
  7. Stretching your legs periodically on flights of more than three or four hours, especially if you're on blood thinners. This decreases the chance of developing a blood clot.
  8. Scheduling an elderhostel trip. These group vacations are geared toward older adults. Generally, organizers vet transportation, lodging and venues ahead of time to ensure the well-being of travelers.

Keith Armitage, MD, is an infectious disease specialist and program director of Internal Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Armitage or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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