Utah-based tour director Doreen Barnes, who leads groups of seniors ranging in age from 55 to over 90, says senior travel is booming, and the travel industry has stepped up to the plate to ensure their special needs are met. In Barnes’ experience, most minor disabilities and special needs can be easily accommodated.
“Some of our people do take oxygen. We always encounter some walkers and occasionally a wheelchair, and we’re happy to accommodate anybody on our trips,” says Barnes, who is 76. Many of her clients receive some elder assistance from a child or friend.
According to Barnes, successful trips require a little extra planning. For instance, she seeks out hotel rooms designed for people with limited mobility and other special needs, she says, and always asks for rooms close to the elevator for those people who can’t walk very far. Many hotels and cruise lines offer accessible rooms, some with ceiling-track lifts. Even bed-and-breakfasts and quaint inns are upgrading their accessibility to attract the senior travel clientele.
Seemingly insurmountable senior travel challenges are becoming a thing of the past, thanks to niche businesses catering to seniors and people with disabilities. One such service is specialized medical transport and escort services for elderly people, who wouldn’t normally be able to travel long distances without some elder assistance.
And for the more able-bodied older traveler, the sky’s the limit.
Barnes’ groups travel to destinations such as Branson, Missouri, Alaska, Las Vegas and Hawaii. They travel mostly by bus, but also by plane, cruise ship and train. They go for short overnights as well as extended stays well over a week.
The Transportation Security Administration, which screens all airline passengers, has established a special program for screening people with disabilities and their mobility aids, devices and other medical equipment. But advance notice needs to be provided to the airline or travel agent. A gate pass can also be obtained for anybody accompanying a person with special needs. The limit of one carry-on and one personal item does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids and assistive devices.
If your loved one has a pacemaker or other medical device on the interior or exterior of their body, ask his or her doctor to find out whether it’s safe to go through the metal detector or to be hand-wanded and if not, make arrangements for an alternate screening method.
Travelers ought to keep all medical supplies with them, along with personal identification, to avoid necessary items being lost with luggage.
The TSA asks that medications be packed in their own carry-on bag and that all medication be clearly identified. Packing medications in checked bags is discouraged, as not to expose them to X-rays. Larger quantities of medications can always be sent to a destination.
It’s important that senior travelers have enough medication with them for the duration of their trip. Bring original prescription bottles to answer any questions that might arise about them. Those bottles also quickly reveal what medications a loved one has been taking if there’s a medical emergency.
“Medications are a lifeline for many travelers. But safely transporting them is most often last on people’s packing lists,” says Dr. Byron Thames, an AARP board member.
Thames recommends thinking in terms of “just in case.” Bring an extra week’s supply because travel arrangements could change; bring copies of prescriptions, because medication could be lost or stolen. Be sure that your loved one’s doctor includes both the brand and generic version.
If needles are used in dispensing a medication, a doctor’s note explaining why a loved one is in possession of that medication and paraphernalia can be helpful. When traveling abroad, check whether any medications are restricted: an over-the-counter drug in the U.S. might be considered a controlled substance elsewhere, particularly if it contains codeine.
Each airline has its own policy for on-board oxygen transport and in-flight oxygen usage. Contact the individual airline for its current oxygen policies.
Personal supplemental oxygen will need to undergo screening. Ask a doctor whether disconnection can be done safely. If it can’t, a security officer can conduct an alternate inspection process. Also, if an oxygen supplier is needed to meet a loved one at the gate, caregivers must check with the airline well in advance of departure to make arrangements.
Similarly, if your loved one has limited mobility, take advantage of special transportation services offered by airlines, cruise lines, and trains to board and alight safely, often via wheelchair. Call ahead to check whether the service is available, and if it is, make a reservation.