Seniors Traveling With Diabetes
Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD
If you are a senior and have diabetes, there is no reason you can’t travel the world and fully enjoy your golden years. The key to traveling well is to go while you are healthy and to stay in good health during your entire trip. Plan a trip that fits your personal needs and abilities. If you wish to travel to a place that requires you to do more than you usually do or may not have many medical services, first meet with your health care provider for a complete checkup and discuss what you need for the trip. Try to do this at least a month before you leave. You and your health care provider can discuss any concerns about your ability to travel, what plans you need to make to handle any medical problems while you are away, and if you need any special shots. You also may receive a note for continued care at your vacation site.
The climate at your destination is important. Avoid vacation areas that are too hot or cold, as these places can put an extra strain on the body. High altitudes also can be a problem if you have heart or lung disease. You may need to go up slowly to reach your high-altitude destination safely.
* Make sure you have a complete supply of your medicines stored in their original bottles, and keep them with you at all times in your carry-on bag.
* Take twice as much medicine as you need—or at least one week’s extra supply of medicines—in case you have problems getting home.
* Carry some basic first aid supplies and over-the-counter medicines, such as pain and fever medicine and antibiotic cream, to avoid late-night runs to the pharmacy.
* To limit walking problems, use the same walking aid you normally use, wear solid, broken-in walking shoes to avoid blisters, use a porter or a luggage cart so you don’t have to haul heavy suitcases, and call ahead for a wheelchair if you have trouble walking at airports.
* You may have to sit for long periods of time while you travel, so wear loose clothing and get up and walk around whenever you can to reduce stiffness, foot and leg swelling and the risk of blood clots. Also pack any support braces, stockings and bandages that you use for muscle or joint pain.
Don’t leave home without these!
* Carry a letter from your health care provider indicating that you have diabetes and what your treatment plan is so you can carry needles or other diabetes supplies. The letter also should mention if you take any special medicines, have a hearing aid, artificial joint, or pacemaker that may set off metal detectors during airline security screening or cause a problems in customs.
* Carry a prescription for your diabetes medicine.
* It also is wise to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that shows you have diabetes.
* If you bring insulin, you can keep it at room temperature, but don’t allow it to get too hot or cold. Don’t store your insulin in the glove compartment of your car or in a backpack. Use an insulated travel pack to keep it cool.
Diabetes care on the go
What you do, how you eat, and even the time zone can affect your diabetes control.
* Check your blood glucose level more often so you can treat any problems that appear.
* If you take insulin, learn how to adjust your dose. Problems such as traveler’s diarrhea or infections may prevent you from eating, may decrease your appetite and may change your insulin needs.
* Take care of your feet, especially if you have blood flow problems. Ask your health care provider how to best care for your feet if you plan to spend time in very hot or cold areas or expect to do a lot of walking. You may need to get special footwear.
* Check your feet each day for redness, cuts and blisters, and get proper treatment for any problems that develop.
* If an emergency occurs while you’re traveling, and you don’t have such a list, contact the American Consulate, American Express or local medical schools for a list of doctors.
* Lastly, learn how to say, “I have diabetes,” and “Sugar or orange juice, please,” in the language or languages of the countries you’ll visit.
* When you fly, ask for a special diabetes meal a few days before you leave.
* If you order a diet soft drink, ask for the can so you can be sure that it is the exact type of drink you ordered.
* If you take mealtime insulin, do not inject it until your meal is in front of you. Meals can be delayed, and you don’t want to risk having a sudden drop in blood glucose level.
* In case of any delay, carry healthy snacks such as crackers, cheese, peanut butter, fruit and some form of fast-acting carbohydrate (hard candy or glucose tablets) to treat low blood glucose.