My family and I are working to accommodate my Grandma’s wishes to fly to Palm Springs, California from Seattle, Washington. She wants to spend her 100th birthday at my Uncle’s house, and as the family matriarch, what Grandma wants, Grandma gets. Her birthday just so happens to be the day before Thanksgiving. As I’ve mentioned before, my Grandma is legally blind and extremely hard of hearing. She also uses a walker and has a health condition that requires her to take blood thinners. These are all factors that my family must consider when we arrange for travel for her. However, travelling with loves ones with disabilities or varying health conditions is a topic of interest for many of my home health and hospice patients and their families. We’re still early for our holiday season in America, but this is around the time many people begin planning travel. As such, I wanted to share a few things I typically tell families I serve in home health, and that I have had to coordinate among my own family.

Plan Ahead
U.S. airlines, hotels and cruise ships are required to be ADA-compliant, which means you can take any equipment you need such as a walker and/or wheelchair. In the U.S., airlines that seat 60 or more persons are required to have an aisle wheelchair, so make sure to find out what’s available if you’re flying on a smaller plane.

Call ahead to make sure the airline and/or transport company knows your accommodations. This is essential if you’re traveling internationally as there isn’t a foreign equivalent to ADA so you need to call ahead to discuss what options can be made to accommodate the person and/or equipment.

A good international resource for persons with service animals and power wheelchairs is Mobility International USA. A more fun thing to plan for is potential discounts! National Parks, Amtrak, hotels and some restaurants have discounts for older adults, wheelchair users and persons with disabilities. Check to see if any of your itinerary items might be eligible for a discount.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of coordinating equipment you might want to consider hiring a travel agent. If you are choosing to organize and plan the trip on your own, or with your family, be sure to specify the exact needs for your travel for your transport and lodging. ADA is an American term and may not mean anything to hotels abroad. A better approach is to contact the hotel you’re interested in staying at and tell them exactly what you need – room to use your walker, a bathroom that has enough room for a wheelchair to navigate and turn around, a plug in next to the bed for a C-Pap machine, etc….

Get Equipment Travel Ready
If you’re taking a walker, add a tag that has your name and phone number on it (with country code if you’re flying internationally). If you’re flying with a wheelchair, call the airline to arrange for wheelchair assistance ahead of time. It’s a good idea to call ahead within 48-72 hours to remind airlines of your needs. If you’re traveling with others, tell the gate agent that you require assistance and they will allow you and your travel companions to preboard. However, wheelchairs are often the last to be assisted off the plane. Factor in extra time if you have connecting flights. Planning ahead ensures the airline and/or you aren’t caught off guard and end up having to wait. This can be potentially disastrous in a situation where you need your mobility equipment or a wheelchair transport and you have a connecting flight.

Make sure your wheelchair has the bare minimum you need to get on the flight. Take items out of a bag if it has one, remove footrests and any cushions. These can be stored in a bag or suitcase for use once you arrive, however, they are easily lost and damaged during transport. For more information about equipment and travel visit the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Air Carrier Access Act for rights on U.S. airlines.

Get Medical Travel Insurance
Medicare doesn’t cover its members outside the U.S. Make sure you have travel insurance that include medical coverage, especially medical evacuation or “medevac” so you can be transported home if you need emergency care.

Stick With Your Home Routine
When it comes to meals, medication and rest, try and keep your travel routine on a similar schedule. Many patients I’ve had shared stories of falls during travels because they were too tired from missing their usual rest times. It’s tempting to try and cram in as much as you need, but it’s really important to rest so you can stay alert and aware during your trip. Always keep a medication reminder and/or take a set of medication with you in the event that you get caught somewhere or don’t make it back to your lodging in time to take it. I once had a patient who travelled abroad and got stuck in a taxi in the middle of a protest. She didn’t think she would be gone long enough to bring her afternoon medication. However, she got stuck in her taxi for over an hour and passed out in the taxi because she was lightheaded. The driver ended up taking her to the hospital instead of her hotel. This was a preventable situation that ended up costing her a lot of money. Had she brought her next medication dose with her and even a small snack, this would have been preventable.

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