Older travellers

Travellers who are 60 years of age and older make up an increasingly large proportion of Canadian travellers.
If you are an older traveller, you may have medical conditions that are important to consider before and during travel. It is important to consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic to discuss your travel plans, preferably six weeks before you travel.

Vaccines

General information

  • 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 younger decreases over time. This could increase your risk of getting 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 destination. 
  • With increasing age, you may not develop a strong immunity after receiving a vaccine or may not develop immunity as quickly. If possible, get vaccinated well in advance of travel so that you have enough time to develop immunity. 

Yellow fever vaccine

Influenza vaccine

  • 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 tropical regions.
  • If you did not receive the flu vaccine at the beginning of the season and are now planning to travel, consider getting the flu shot. It is important to get it well in advance so that you develop immunity before your departure.

Malaria

  • Older travellers may be at an increased risk of severe, complicated, or fatal malaria.
  • If you are travelling to areas where malaria is present, your health care provider should discuss your risk and determine if anti-malarial medication is required.
    • Some anti-malarial medications can interact with medications you may already be taking. Make sure to bring a complete list of all your medications so the health care provider can assess potential drug interactions.
  • Whether taking anti-malarial medication or not, protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • If you develop a fever while travelling or after you return home, seek medical attention immediately. Tell your health care provider that you have recently travelled to an area where malaria is present.

Transportation risks

Air travel

  • Older travellers have a higher risk of developing blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Risk factors (for example, cancer, congestive heart failure, or recent surgery) can also put you at greater risk of developing blood clots. 
  • The risk of DVT can be reduced by getting up and walking around occasionally, exercising and stretching your legs while seated and selecting an aisle seat when possible. Your health care provider may recommend additional ways to reduce your risk such as wearing compression stockings and/or taking preventative medication.

Jet lag

  • Older travellers may feel the effects of jet lag more than younger travellers.
  • Jet lag can develop after crossing multiple time zones. Symptoms of jet lag can include difficulty falling asleep at night, waking up earlier than usual, feeling irritable and tired.
  • You can minimize the symptoms of jet lag by:
    • getting more exposure to sunlight
    • eating at your usual mealtime in the new time zone
    • getting some exercise
    • drinking lots of water and staying well hydrated; it is important to limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine

Driving

  • Even if you can drive safely in a familiar environment, it can be difficult to safely adapt to different driving conditions such as driving on the left side of the road, unfamiliar routes, poor road conditions, or a different vehicle. Consider safer transportation options other than driving.
  • Remember to wear a seat belt, even when it is not required by law in the country you are in.

Environmental and recreational risks

High altitude

  • Older travellers are generally at less risk of altitude sickness than younger travellers.
  • Being in good physical shape and ascending to high altitudes slowly can help your body adapt.
  • If you have heart or lung disease or diabetes, the health care professional may discuss other ways to help reduce the effects of altitude sickness.

Extreme temperatures

  • Older people are at a higher risk of non-exercise-related heat stroke due to decreased sweat production and the use of certain medications.
    • 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 use 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 early signs and symptoms of hypothermia (shivering, feeling tired, confusion, slow and shallow breathing) and frost bite (numbness or tingling, stinging or pain, and pale or waxy skin). Seek medical attention if you think you are developing hypothermia or frost bite. 

Preventing falls

  • Older people are more vulnerable to falls and are more likely to suffer 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 (for example, a cane or a walker) to prevent falls.

Travellers’ diarrhea

  • 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 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; accompanied by a high fever, jaundice (yellow skin) or persistent vomiting, or if the dehydration does not improve despite the use of oral rehydration solutions.

Travelling with medication and medical supplies

  • Bring more than enough medication to last your entire trip in case you are away for longer than expected.
  • 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 contact lenses, 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.
  • Before departing, contact the foreign government office accredited to Canada of the country you plan to visit 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 What You Can Bring on a Plane to check what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on luggage
  • Consult Travelling with medication and Travelling with a medical device for more tips.

Don’t forget…

  1. Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
  2. Pack a travel health kit.
  3. Obtain travel health insurance.
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