Aging Well: Preparing for healthy travel abroad

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Be prepared

Essential resources for international travel:

• Information about vaccines, food- and water-borne illnesses and other travel health information: www.cdc.gov/travel or 877-FYI-TRIP.

• The VNA’s travel clinic provides vaccine information and administers vaccines. Call 879-1632.

• Travel warnings, emergency contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates and other travel information: www.travel.state.gov.

Biking through Italy, lounging in Tahiti, volunteering in Guatemala: A plethora of international adventures beckon retirees.

They may have more time to travel, but older adults also may have more health concerns. Fear of sickness or injury shouldn’t prevent them or others with medical conditions from planning a getaway, however. Good forethought and preparation, such as visiting with doctors and considering travel insurance, can help these travelers confidently plan and enjoy their dream trips.

Peace of mind

Most people think about travel insurance when they worry about having to cancel a trip.

However, travel insurance also is available for medical costs if a traveler becomes ill or injured or needs ambulance or air transport to a medical facility.

Most Americans who purchase travel insurance choose comprehensive policies that cover medical and medical evacuation expenses in addition to trip cancellation and lost or damaged baggage, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

Travelers should investigate whether their health insurance will cover medical costs abroad and if so, what would be covered, such as hospitalization and emergency care. Medical evacuation, which can cost thousands of dollars, rarely is covered by most standard health insurance policies. Also, Medicare and Medicaid do not pay medical expenses outside the U.S.

Travel insurance prices generally are based on a person’s age, cost of trip and amount of coverage. Most policies range between 4 and 8 percent of the total trip price, according to the association.

Annual policies also are available for frequent travelers.

Some policies include a 24-hour assistance hot line, which coordinates medical help, transportation and payment, facilitates communication with doctors and family in the U.S., and helps with translation and other emergency needs.

Some policies exclude pre-existing conditions while others will cover those considered stable with medication. These policies usually must be purchased within a set period related to departure or initial trip deposit, explained Linda Kundell, spokeswoman for the association.

Some policies include additional protection for pre-existing medical conditions and against supplier default if travelers purchase insurance when they book their trip, according to the US Travel Insurance Association.

The only policies that typically have an age limit are those that provide collision or damage coverage for rental cars (age limit is 75), though policy costs will increase with a person’s age, she noted.

There’s a wide variety of travel insurance available to fit a person’s needs. For example, travelers planning to climb mountains or go white water rafting may want to find travel insurance that will cover medical costs related to hazardous sports.

Policies are offered through suppliers such as tour operators, cruise lines and travel Web sites such as Expedia.com, as well as through third-party insurance companies.

Consumer Reports rated travel insurance companies and provided recommendations for choosing a policy in a May 2007 report (see www.consumerreport.org).

Travelers can compare and purchase travel insurance online at Web sites such as www.insuremytrip.com or visit a travel agency for more information.

Other preparations

In the midst of arranging for passports and planning itineraries, travelers should leave plenty of time to consider any immunizations they may need.

Information about recommended or required vaccines for international destinations is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov/travel.

Travel clinics, such as the one offered by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, help travelers determine which vaccinations are necessary and administer the vaccines. Travelers should get immunized at least one month before travel so the vaccines will be effective against disease.

The Foundation for Health in Aging, a program of the American Geriatrics Society, offers suggestions for helping travelers make sure they aren’t without their medications during their trip.

Travelers should keep their medications and extra eye glasses — if needed — in their carry on bag in case their checked luggage is lost.

To make the customs process easier, they should leave prescription and over-the-counter medications in original containers and carry a doctor’s note specifying their medical conditions and treatment, the brand and generic names of their medications, doses and the amount needed for the trip.

It’s a good idea for older travelers to talk with their doctors before planning or embarking on a trip. Doctors can alert their patients to any health risks, such as air pollution or high altitudes for those with respiratory, cardiac or other problems. Travelers also may want to know whether time zone changes should affect when they take their medications.

To avoid food- and water-borne illness, travelers should review information specific to each country at the CDC Web site before leaving.

They also should carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after spending time on crowded planes, trains, buses and before eating, suggests the Foundation for Health in Aging.

Older travelers should be aware of deep-vein thrombosis when planning a trip involving long plane, train or car rides.

Adults older than 60 are among those at higher risk for this dangerous condition, which happens when blood clots form in veins, usually in the legs, and block blood flow.

Sitting for a long time, usually more than four hours, can contribute to DVT. Doctors may recommend a blood thinning medication or compression stockings for those at higher risk. Travelers also can flex and stretch their feet to encourage blood flow, take a quick walk every hour, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol, according to recommendations from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Information from the U.S. Department of State publication “Travel Tips for Older Americans” was included in this report.

— Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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