7 Health Hacks Traveling Seniors Should Know

Between deciding how much is too much to pack, security lines that seemingly snake around for miles, delays and long flights that leave you with numb limbs, traveling can often be more stressful than it is fun. This is especially true for seniors, who struggle with travel fatigue and making their way around big airports, according to a new study featured on Skift.

The study lists the effects of aging on muscles and the skeletal system, plus new technologies, fatigue and confusing navigational signs among the issues seniors deal with most often. Luckily, these problems don't have to be yours, though. With a little planning, patience and health hacks that will help you to stay alert, keep track of your medications and much more, your next flight won't leave you feeling helpless and frustrated. Rather, when you arrive at your final destination, you'll be less stressed and ready to go enjoy your vacation or new adventure.

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1. Set Medication Alarms

It's easy to forget medications when you're out of a regular routine and distracted by spending time exploring or with family and friends. Don't risk missing an important pill, and download an app on your cell phone that will remind you when it's time to take your medications, instead. Check out the mobile app Medisafe Medication Reminder or purchase a gadget like TabTime's Vibrating Pill Reminder, a pill case that vibrates or sounds an alarm when it's time to take your medication.

2. Fight Flight Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common challenges seniors face when traveling, according to a report from Airport Cooperation Research Program. Thanks to the dry air, slowing of blood flow and sedentary nature of flying, it's easy to feel fatigued, even after just one flight. Not to mention all the standing in line, lifting heavy bags and walking long distances, which the report suggests pose the greatest challenges.

Fight this fatigue by drinking plenty of water. Plan on bringing an empty water bottle through security and filling up at water fountains throughout the airport before flights and during layovers. Staying hydrated reduces muscle fatigue and increases energy, allowing you to stay hydrated and awake so you're ready to see family and friends when you touch down in your final destination.
3. Learn the Layout

Whether you're staying in a hotel or at a family member's house, knowing the layout—or requesting special accommodations—is important for overall comfort. Val Grubb, a senior travel expert, suggests being clear with the hotel about this when making your reservation. As she explains on her blog:

When booking with the hotel, be sure and let them know exactly what you need. And when I say 'exactly,' I mean be very specific:
  • "I need a room close to the elevator."
  • "My mom is confined to a wheelchair and needs a roll-in shower."
  • "We need handrails and a booster seat for the toilet and handrails in the shower."

While most hotels can and will comply, Grubb suggests that smaller, boutique hotels may have a harder time accommodating: "Keep in mind that a hotel's size can influence its ability to meet your needs," she writes. "Small boutique hotels may not have the full range of services that a larger hotel has available"

When staying with a family member or friend, inquire about your room's location, stairs and anything else that you may have trouble navigating. When you know these details, you can better prepare for any potential challenges, or request a change of rooms that will help you have an enjoyable stay.

4. Tune Hearing Aids for Loud Airports

Between flight announcements, parents yelling to corral fidgety toddlers and the general hustle and bustle of people rushing from one flight to the next, airports can be a strain on the ears. While loud environments used to throw the sound levels in your hearing aids out of whack, new technology makes it possible to avoid this altogether:

"Noise reduction features help keep sound levels comfortable when the volume of surrounding sound increases," hearing experts with Beltone explain on their blog. "Further, advanced digital circuitry and directional microphone technology work in conjunction to help you more easily hear speech in noisy situations, such as restaurants, crowds or airports."

If you aren't wearing the most up-to-date hearing aids, you may not have these features built-in just yet. If this is the case, make an appointment to see your audiologist or professional hearing specialist before leaving for your trip to get your hearing aids tuned for the noisy environments. If you're able, consider upgrading to a newer version so you don't have to make an appointment every time you want to travel.

5. Stretch Regularly

Sitting on a plane or in a car for hours at a time can lead to stiff joints. Luckily, the remedy for this is simple: move more. While on the plane or in a car, take one minute each hour to stretch your entire body, whether that's getting up and walking to the bathroom, or simply lightly adjusting and extending your ligaments right in your seat.

For your legs, this can be as simple as stretching one out in front of you, alternating between left and right, and contracting and releasing the muscles (in this case, your quadriceps) off and on for 30 seconds to one minute. This increases blood flow, reducing stiffness in your knees. You can reduce stiffness in your wrists by flexing them in different directions for one minute, or in your shoulders by rolling them forward and backward for one minute.

If you're flying, layovers are a great time to walk off the stiffness, as well. Once you find your gate, take a walk and mosey around the shops. The more movement you can squeeze in between flights, the better your joints will feel once you settle into that small seat. Try these stretches when waiting for the plane, which specifically help with joint stiffness.
6. Keep Medications in Your Carry-On

When traveling, always keep your medications within reach, preferably in your carry-on if you're checking bags. While the rate of mishandled bags hit a record low in 2016—just 5.73 bags lost per 1,000 people, according to SITA's 2017 Baggage Report—there's always a chance something can go wrong and you do not want to risk your health by being without your important medications due to an airline error. This is especially true when transferring planes: The same report found that 10.2 million transferred bags were mishandled or lost.

Don't risk losing medication that you can't get elsewhere; keep them in your carry-on for quick access and to ensure that if any luggage does get lost, you'll have one less thing to worry about.

7. Bring Small, Pre-Prepared Meals

If you have specific dietary requirements—low sodium, low cholesterol, high iron, et cetera—don't rely on the airport to have what you need. Instead, prepare ahead of time by making food to bring along.

This can be as simple as making a little extra dinner the night before your flight and packing it in a to-go container, or you can opt to bring a few light snacks that fit within your dietary needs. While there's no limit to how much food you can bring if you have the room, check with TSA food regulations if you're uncertain about any items. If you decide to bring a meal, be sure that any foods you pack in that Tupperware are up to the USDA's food safety guidelines for leftovers and reheating. Stick to foods that do not require refrigeration or reheating, as both appliances will be difficult to come by on the road or in the air.

Note that you can bring most non-liquid food items through security. However, foods that might count as liquid include yogurt and applesauce, so avoid snacks like these. For domestic flights, fruits and vegetables that won't get smashed such as carrots or apples are a great option. Crackers and individually packaged peanut butter packets work well, too. If meal prepping for air travel isn't your style, check the airport map prior to heading to the airport to see what kind of food options are available. For many restaurants, you can look up the menu online to find food options that fit within your dietary needs.

Use these simple health hacks to make your next trip as relaxing and stress-free as possible. When you plan ahead, put safeguards in place and stay hydrated along the way, you'll feel better and be ready for the fun that's awaiting you at your final destination.