Travel happy and healthy

Getting a clean bill of health is especially important for senior citizens before they travel overseas.

Mr Henry Ching, senior manager, products development, Asia-Euro Holidays, says he usually advises elderly clients to have a full body check-up to ensure they are fit for travel. The travel agency offers discounted rates for senior citizens on its tours including Star Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruise as well as tours to Taiwan.

On top of that, he usually reminds clients to inform the agency if they need medical attention or have special meal requests.

Dr Limin Wijaya, director of The Travel Clinic, Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital, advises travellers to seek pre-travel advice from health-care professionals to assess risk factors as well as to increase their awareness of risks which can occur during travel, and how to best manage or avoid them.

Says Dr Raymond Choy, general practitioner at Raffles Medical, Terminal 3, Changi Airport: "Seniors who are travelling abroad are advised to make an appointment to visit the doctor for travel medicine advice at least four weeks before the trip.

"It is also advisable for senior citizens to have annual health screenings before travelling to ensure they are physically and mentally fit.

"Elderly people who are preparing to travel should start an exercise programme, update routine immunisation and get destination-specific vaccinations.

"Senior travellers should also check with their doctor if immunisation is required by the specific country and if there are any health-related restrictions. Countries with recent epidemic or pandemic outbreaks should be avoided by senior citizens as they are more prone to infections."

Dr Choy adds that a flu vaccine is offered and recommended to seniors travelling to populated places such as going on the haj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia as they are prone to respiratory tract infection.

Yellow fever vaccination is required for those travelling to tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa, while malaria chemoprophylaxis (antimalarial drugs) is recommended for those heading to Africa, Central and South America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia, Eastern Europe and the South Pacific.

Dr Wijaya says: "A vaccine, such as yellow fever vaccine, is essential for travel to a yellow fever country but may be associated with higher vaccine-related side effects in an individual over 60. Hence, this needs to be discussed with the doctor."

Take note

Dr Wijaya adds that a general rule is for the choice of travel or tour to fit the physical fitness or agility of the traveller. She says that, as people get older, they tend to be more vulnerable to changes in temperature, effects of lower oxygen at high altitude, fatigue and exhaustion.

Furthermore, age may be associated with more illness, and this, coupled with less mobility, will predispose the seniors to the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT occurs when a blood clot developed in the deep veins of the legs due to reduced mobility inflight. Dr Choy says there is a greater risk of DVT in senior citizens and under certain conditions such as previous DVT, blood disorder, smoking, contraceptive pills and recent orthopaedic or neurosurgery.

He recommends that travellers wear special tight stockings to prevent clot formation in the legs, and says drinking plenty of water and moving about more often inflight may help to reduce the risk of DVT.

Another common condition is acute gastroenteritis, or "stomach flu". Travellers may suffer acute abdominal pain with diarrhoea and vomiting which may lead to severe dehydration.

Dr Choy says this can be fatal in the elderly and so travellers should practise good personal hygiene, eat only well-cooked and well-prepared dishes or fruit, and drink bottled or boiled water.

Underlying health issues

Dr Choy says: "Those with cardiovascular disease such as recent heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure and recent heart surgery are advised not to travel as this group of people will require monitoring and clearance for travel by the treating specialist and travel clinic.

"Also, seniors who have had a recent operation such as eye or ear surgery and orthopaedic surgery are recommended to seek clearance from their treating specialist before they fly.

"Seniors suffering from lung problems such as uncontrolled asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and recent pneumothorax are encouraged to seek medical advice and treatment before they fly."

Take your meds

Says Dr Choy: "Senior travellers should always take their routine daily medications with them such as high blood pressure tablets, diabetes medication and inhalers for asthmatic patients, to name just a few. Furthermore, travellers who have implants such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators and metal plates should always take relevant medical documentation with them for immigration clearance if required. A list of written or printed medical conditions and medications, as well as drug allergies, can be handy in an emergency."

Dr Wijaya says travellers should take additional doses of their medication in case there are flight delays or interruptions. "The medications should be properly labelled with the drug name rather than a trade name. Travellers should keep this list of medications safe in case they need to buy overseas. Always check - some medications may be prohibited overseas such as those containing codeine."

Also, travellers should have a medical kit. These can include antacids; anti-diarrhoea medications such as loperamide; analgesia such as paracetamol; oral rehydration sachets for hydration in the event of diarrhoea; antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine for allergies or runny nose; insect repellents; sunscreen; and antiseptic solution with plasters and bandages.

Travellers should also notify their insurance company for international medical coverage in case medical assistance or attention is needed abroad.

After the trip

If you do fall sick after you return from overseas, seek medical attention immediately. Dr Choy says: "Senior travellers should seek medical attention and consult their doctor as soon as possible if they are sick after their overseas vacation as their health can deteriorate rapidly depending on the medical background and the nature of the problem."

Dr Wijaya adds: "The most common illness travellers come down with is either diarrhoea or some mild viral infection of the lung. However, serious illness can occur such as malaria or typhoid. Hence, seeing a doctor early is important if one falls sick after an overseas vacation."

It is also important to inform the doctor where they have travelled and what activities they were involved in.

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