Older travellers (those 60 years of age and older) are expected to make up an increasingly large proportion of Canadian travellers as our population ages.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2010, Canadians over 55 years of age represented about one third of over 10 million travellers to destinations other than the United States. There was a 95% increase in travellers in this age group from 2000 to 2010.
Older travellers may have medical conditions that are important to consider before and during travel. It is important to consult a doctor, nurse or other health care provider, or visit a travel health clinic to discuss your travel plans, preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines for older travellers
- Be sure your routine vaccines and adult boosters recommended in Canada, such as the pneumococcal vaccine, are up to date.
- The protection you received from vaccines when you were young decreases as you age. This could increase your susceptibility to some diseases. Discuss your immunization history with your health care provider before you travel.
- Visit a health care provider to find out if any other vaccines are required or recommended for your travel destination.
- Older people may not develop a strong immunity after receiving a vaccine or may not develop immunity as quickly as younger people. If possible, get vaccinated well in advance of your trip so that you have enough time to develop immunity.
Yellow fever vaccine
- The yellow fever vaccine may be required to protect travellers against the yellow fever virus, to protect countries from the importation or spread of the yellow fever virus, or both. The entry requirements may not reflect your risk of developing yellow fever at your destination.
- Older people are more likely to experience serious side effects from the yellow fever vaccine.
- If you are travelling to a country that requires proof of yellow fever vaccination to enter or to a country or areas where there is a risk of yellow fever, discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with your health care provider.
- If your health care provider determines you should not receive the vaccine for medical reasons, he or she will provide you with a medical waiver.
- Influenza (flu) season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, from April to October in the southern hemisphere, and year-round in the tropics.
- Consider getting the flu shot before travelling. If you are travelling to the southern hemisphere during flu season and the flu vaccine is not available in Canada at that time, discuss whether or not you should be vaccinated at your destination with your health care provider.
Malaria and the older traveller
- Older travellers may be at an increased risk of severe, complicated, or fatal malaria.
- If you are travelling to areas with a risk of malaria, visit a health care provider to determine if anti-malaria medication is required.
- Some anti-malaria medications can interact with medications you may already be taking. Discuss potential drug interactions with a health care provider.
- Whether taking anti-malaria medication or not, protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- If you develop a fever while travelling or after your trip (for up to three months or longer), seek medical attention immediately. Tell your health care provider that you have recently travelled to an area with malaria.
- Sitting still for a long flight can put you at an increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins that can move to your lungs (venous thromboembolism).
- You can decrease your risk of blood clots by wearing loose clothing, frequently moving your legs, and keeping hydrated.
- If you have other risk factors for developing blood clots, like cancer, congestive heart failure, or recent surgery, ask your health care provider what else you can do to reduce your risk.
- Older travellers may be more susceptible to jet lag than younger travellers.
- Jet lag can develop after crossing multiple time zones. Symptoms of jet lag include difficulty falling asleep at night, waking up earlier than usual and feeling irritable and sleepy during the day.
- You can minimize the symptoms of jet lag by:
- exposing yourself to sunlight.
- eating at your usual mealtime in the new time zone.
- getting some exercise.
- limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
- It can be difficult to adapt to driving conditions in other countries, such as driving on the left side of the road, unfamiliar routes, poor road conditions or a different vehicle.
- Even if you can drive safely in a familiar environment, it may be difficult to safely adapt to an unfamiliar setting. Consider transportation options other than driving.
- Remember to wear a seat belt, even if it is not required by law in the country you are in.
Environmental and recreational risks
- Older travellers are generally at less risk of altitude sickness than younger travellers.
- At the same time, older travellers are more likely to be affected by the lower concentrations of oxygen at high altitudes.
- Being in good physical shape and ascending to high altitudes slowly can help your body adapt.
- Older people are at a higher risk of non-exercise-related heat stroke due to decreased sweat production and the use of certain medications (e.g., diuretics or “water pills”).
- Protect yourself from the heat.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke (confusion, dizziness, headache, nausea). Seek medical attention if you think you are developing heat stroke.
- Take some time to get used to the heat before engaging in any vigorous physical activity.
- Older people also have a decreased ability to tolerate cold temperatures.
- Protect yourself from the cold.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia (shivering [although this may stop if the hypothermia is severe], confusion, slow and shallow breathing) and frostbite (pale, waxy, numb skin). Seek medical attention if you think you are developing hypothermia or frostbite.
- Older people are more vulnerable to falls and are more likely to sustain serious injury if they fall.
- Pathways and stairs may be uneven or poorly lit. Travellers with limited mobility or impaired balance might consider using a walking aid to prevent falls.
- To prevent travellers’ diarrhea, practise safe food and water precautions and wash your hands frequently.
- If you get travellers’ diarrhea, drink enough oral rehydration solution (ORS) or other fluids to maintain pale-coloured urine.
- Complications from travellers’ diarrhea are a particular concern in older travellers with underlying medical conditions. Ask your health care provider if there are any extra precautions you should take.
- Seek medical attention if the diarrhea is bloody; the diarrhea is accompanied by a high fever, jaundice (yellow skin), or persistent vomiting; or if dehydration does not improve despite the use of ORS.
Travelling with medication and medical supplies
- Bring more than enough medication to last your entire trip.
- Leave medications in their original containers.
- Carry a copy of the original prescription and a note from your health care provider explaining what the medication is for.
- If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair or the prescription.
- Do not buy medication outside of Canada unless you have been advised to do so by a health care professional. Be aware of counterfeit medications or those that may not meet Canadian standards.
- Contact the embassy of your destination country before departing to make sure the medications or medical supplies you intend to bring are allowed into the country.
- If you need to use needles or syringes, carry a medical certificate explaining that the needles or syringes are for medical use.
- Consult our section on what you can bring on a plane to determine what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on luggage.
- Consult a doctor, nurse or health care provider, or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
- Pack a travel health kit.
- Obtain travel health insurance.
- Returning to Canada - If you get sick
- Insect bite prevention
- Receiving medical care in other countries
- Sickness or injury
- Travel health kit checklist
- Travel Insurance
- Travellers' diarrhea
- Well on your way - A Canadian’s guide to healthy travel abroad
- What you can bring on a plane
- Statement on older travellers, Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (CATMAT)