Travel tips for seniors gathered from various sources
Older people should plan any travel carefully. Make sure pre-existing medical conditions are well managed. Organise travel insurance with pre-existing illness coverage if needed and take enough of your regular medication to last the entire trip. Coronary heart disease, obesity and sitting still for extended periods of time are known risk factors for the development of blood clots in the veins of the legs or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
All travellers should plan carefully to ensure their health and safety while away. However, older people have a few extra concerns. Consult with your travel agent for suggestions. For example, many tour operators specialise in accommodating the needs of travelling seniors.
- BUY APPROPRIATE TRAVEL HEALTH INSURANCE. Medical coverage outside of Canada and even outside the province varies from province to province but you can be sure that coverage will not come anywhere close to paying any medical costs incurred in another country. Even a short hospital stay can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Be prepared!
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition that could cause problems while away, make certain that your travel insurance covers pre-existing medical conditions.
Tips to avoid being denied coverage even when you have purchased travel health insurance.
1. Read your policy thoroughly and review the coverage: This may seem obvious, but it’s important to realize travel heath coverage is not a full medical plan.
“In many ways it’s more of an emergency plan, so people should review the policy because there are eligibility requirements for the policy. There are limitations and restrictions,” said David Hartman, president of the Travel Health Insurance Industry Association of Canada.
Tim Bzowey, vice-president, travel, RBC Insurance, said people should also review the coverage they already have, whether it is through work or a credit card, and know the possible limitations.
“It’s a question of, ‘Do you know what the limits are?’ It’s for a specific period of time — how many days is it good for? Are there limits, are there age restrictions?”
Also, check to see if the insurance provider pays for the expenses upfront, or if you will be required to pay the hospital and be reimbursed later.
2. Be honest: One of the main reasons claims are denied is that people haven’t filled out their medical questionnaire accurately. People must disclose all medical conditions and seek a health-care professional’s assistance if there is confusion regarding the questions.
As well, travel policies require a “stability period,” meaning if your health has changed in any way, including a change in medication, since the time you purchased your policy, you must inform your insurer or there could be coverage problems.
3. Free health care across Canada for Canadians? Not quite: While many medical services are covered across Canada, some emergency expenses are not.
“Ground ambulance may be a few hundred dollars, but if you needed to be air-ambulanced back from Vancouver [to Toronto] now that’s a $30,000 bill for an air ambulance with a medical team,” Bzowey said.
While Bzowey said accidents requiring that type of medical care are infrequent, they do happen.
4. Coverage for U.S. trips? Consider it.
Stepping across the border into the U.S., even for the day, can be costly in the event of a medical emergency. But most people may not consider getting coverage for a quick jaunt to our neighbour to the south. According to a recent RBC survey of people aged 18-34, 44 per cent said they rarely or never purchased health insurance for travel to the U.S.
“We’ve had circumstances when people have gone on a shopping trip to Buffalo for the day, they’ve had a very serious medical event, and have ended up hospitalized and unable to return home,” Bzowey said. “The human tragedy aside, the financial implications of that are horrendous.”
Hartman added that while most provinces pay from $75 to $400 a day for a hospital room stay, it’s relatively small reimbursement compared to the total cost.
5. “Adventurous” travellers may not be covered: Hartman warns that some policies may have clauses that do not cover medical mishaps caused by “high-risk activity.” This can include accidents caused by alcohol, or certain sports like scuba diving or parasailing. Hartman said you can upgrade your coverage with some policies to cover adventure travel, but there will be an added premium.
- Find out about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting.
- Research important factors such as climate, language and culture. Buy a guide book and read it before you go.
- Make arrangements for wheelchairs, guide dogs and seating needs well in advance.
- If you are concerned about your health, arrange to go on a package tour.
- Pack all necessary medications in their original containers in your carry-on bag in order to avoid loss, damage or theft.
- Consult with your doctor for a complete medical check-up. This is especially important if you have coronary heart disease, hypertension or any other chronic condition, or if you have recently undergone surgery or experienced a heart attack.
- Discuss with your doctor any particular health concerns you may have, such as dietary changes and the possible impact of different foods and eating habits on your specific condition.
- Ask your physician for a signed letter with the following information:
- Any past and current medical problems you have and how they’re treated.
- The names (including generic names) of any drugs you’re taking, the doses, and when and how your take them (for example, whether you use a needle).
- The amount of each drug you need to take with you on your trip. Having this information with you at all times helps ensure proper medical care if there’s an emergency.
- The information in this letter can also help allay any suspicions of customs officers at border checks.
- People with diabetes will need medical advice on how to safely stagger their medications to fit a different time zone.
- Consider having your flu and pneumonia vaccinations before you go on your trip.
- If you intend travelling to areas where infectious diseases are present, make sure you are fully vaccinated.
- Visit your dentist for a check-up.
- Visit any other health care providers you consult with on a regular basis, such as your optometrist.
- Some medications that are legal in Canada may be prohibited in other countries, even the United States. Contact the Canadian embassies in the countries you intend visiting to check.
- Take enough regular medication with you to last the entire trip. Some drugs may not be available overseas.
- You may like to consider a written and signed note from your doctor explaining the purpose of your medications, just in case.
- If you are taking large amounts of prescription medication with you, take a letter of explanation from your doctor.
- If you are taking large amounts of over-the-counter medication with you, take a letter of explanation from your pharmacist.
- If you buy medications in other countries, remember that the dosages may be different from the brands you are familiar with.
- If the medication you regularly take requires syringes (such as insulin-dependent diabetes), take enough syringes to last the trip.
- If you have an underlying health condition such as diabetes or coronary problams, wear a medical alert bracelet or pendant which contains your medical details to inform others of your medical condition in case you need urgent help. Your doctor should be able to advise you about the options available.
- Suggestions include:
- Make sure your carry-on bag contains everything you will need for the duration of the flight.
- Include a medical kit in your carry-on bag. Items to consider include regular medications, painkillers, antacids and band-aids.
- It might be a good idea to take along a pillbox with compartments for different days of the week. Being away from home (and your usual routine) could make you more likely to forget to take your medication.
- Pack a spare pair of glasses.
- It may be easier on your back if you use a suitcase with wheels.Deep vein thrombosis and ‘economy class syndrome’Coronary heart disease, obesity and sitting still for extended periods of time are known risk factors for the development of blood clots in the veins of the legs. This condition is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some researchers believe that long haul flights can be a risk factor in susceptible people. Suggestions on how to reduce the small risk of DVT while flying include:Consult with your doctor before flying. They may recommend that you take half an aspirin (150mg) on the day of the flight, and you may be advised to use elasticised stockings for the flight.Wear loose clothing.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Take strolls up and down the aisles when possible.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed.
- Perform leg and foot stretches and exercises while seated.
Taking care of yourself while on holidays
- Allow an easy day or two to recover from jet lag. Remember that the effects of jet lag may be lessened if you fly west instead of east.
- If you are unsure of the water supply, drink bottled water.
- To reduce the risk of food poisoning, avoid food buffets, seafood, undercooked meats, peeled and raw fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurised dairy products. Don’t buy food from street vendors.
- Don’t draw up a jam-packed itinerary for each and every day of your holiday – arrange for plenty of rest breaks, particularly in hot weather.
- Wear thongs in communal showers to reduce the risk of infectious diseases (like warts and tinea).
- Pack condoms and practise safe sex.
- Seniors cards are only supposed to offer benefits within your home State, but flashing the card at museums and other attractions may get you a cheaper entry ticket.
- Travellers’ diarrhoea may reduce the effectiveness of your medications. Consult with a doctor if you have diarrhoea for more than one day. Your Canadian embassy can provide you with a list of doctors.
- Don’t travel around at night.
- Don’t wear expensive jewellery on obvious display.
- Wear valuables (such as traveller’s cheques and credit cards) on a belt worn under the clothes and next to the skin.
- Consider carrying a ‘dummy’ wallet holding a small amount of cash. If you are directly confronted by a mugger, you can hand over the dummy wallet and avoid further distress.
- Carry with you at all times the contact details of the Canadian embassy. If your city doesn’t have an Canadian embassy, find out which other country’s embassy is available to help you, such as the British embassy.
- Thieves and pickpockets may consider older people as easy targets. Suggestions include:
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Travel agent
- Canadian embassies