Travel health for special groups:Older travelers Peter A. Leggat, MD, PhD, DrPH, FAFPHM, FACTM, FFTM Associate Professor School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine James Cook University
About the author • Dr Peter Leggat has co-ordinated the Australian postgraduate course in travel medicine since 1993. He has also been on the faculty of the South African travel medicine course, conducted since 2000, and the Worldwise New Zealand Travel Health update programs since 1998. Dr Leggat has assisted in the development of travel medicine programs in several countries and also the Certificate of Knowledge examination for the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Objectives of the session • To review the general approach to travel health advice • To familiarize ourselves with some of the potential health concerns relevant to older travelers
Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience Francis Bacon 1612 As quoted from The White House, Travel section. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/handbook/travel.html (accessed 19 March 2005)
Introduction • Average life expectancy is increasing in most developed countries. • Retired older persons often want to travel. • Up to 10% of travelers in tropical areas are older persons. • In addition to other organs, the immune system function also becomes impaired.
General Approach (after Ericsson, 2003) • Risk assessment, determining the risks of the destination, mode of travel and the special conditions of the traveler • Vaccinate when possible and indicated; • Provide the traveler with appropriate empirical self-treatment • Consider chemoprophylaxis
General Approach (after Ericsson, 2003) • Consider any concerns regarding underlying conditions and possible drug interactions • Consult experts in travel medicine or specialty areas as necessary • Educate the traveler • Remind the traveler that these precautions are not 100% protective
Motion sickness Jet lag Heatstroke and hypothermia Thromboembolic disease Injuries and accidents Travelers’ diarrhea Malaria Vaccine preventable disease Issues associated with disability, including exercise tolerance, visual or hearing impairment Some common problems
Motion sickness • Common in any traveling group • Cruise ship travel popular with older travelers • www.cdc.gov/travel has link to cruise ship sanitation inspections
Motion sickness • Nonpharmacological • e.g. distant horizon, close eyes • Pharmacological • e.g. diphenydramine, hyoscine (c.i. glaucoma and prostatic hypertrophy)
Jet lag • Older travelers may be more susceptible • Nonpharmacological • well-rested, adaption of activities to destination time • Pharmacological • e.g. benzodiazepines, melatonin may offer help for some travelers
Heatstroke and hypothermia • Older travelers may be more susceptible to effects of extreme temperatures • Consider • Gradual acclimatization • Adequate hydration • Appropriate clothing • Caution with pharmaceutical agents, which may impair thermoregulation, e.g. beta blockers, antihistamines, diuretics, and anticholinergic agents
Thromboembolic disease • Increased risk of venous thromboembolism in those with known venous disorders and cardiac disease • Dehydration and prolonged immobility may be problematic in these individuals • Non-pharmaceutical • e.g. in-flight exercise, compression stockings • Pharmaceutical for high risk travelers • e.g. subcutaneous heparin
Injuries and accidents • Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in various age group • Older travelers may be at increased risk due to slower reaction times, visual/auditory impairments, adverse effects of medications etc
Travelers’ diarrhea • Traveler’s diarrhea is sometimes more severe with older persons, increasing the risk of dehydration through loss of fluid and electrolytes. • Prompt therapy is necessary. • It is important to consider possible drug interactions as older persons often use multiple medications for chronic illnesses.
Malaria • Incidence of severe illness and death increases with age • Nonpharmaceutical • e.g. DEET • Pharmaceutical • e.g. chemoprophylaxis usually well tolerated • Caution with some drugs, e.g. mefloquine in cardiac and neuropsychiatric conditions
Vaccine preventable diseases • Routine immunizations should be checked/boostered • 65 and over: pneumococcal vaccine and annual influenza immunization • Age alone not really contraindication to vaccination • Seroconversion rates may decrease with age
Vaccine preventable diseases • Hepatitis A screening may be cost effective in older travelers due to higher seropositive rates • Remember hepatitis A is generally a more severe disease in older travelers • Live vaccines (oral typhoid, oral polio, varicella, yellow fever) need to be used with caution in immunocompromised travelers
Illness and Disability • Increasing incidence of medical problems with age • Physically demanding trips needs to be balanced with exercise tolerance • Control of pre-existing disease important, as important cause of morbidity and mortality abroad • Travel insurers may require medical risk assessment with older travelers and those with preexisting disease
Want more information? • Older travellers • McIntosh IB. Health hazards and the elderly traveler. J Travel Med 1998; 5: 27-29
Textbooks • Many textbooks have useful chapters dealing with issues related to older travelers • Manual of Travel Medicine and Health (Steffen et al., 2003) • Principles and Practice of Travel Medicine (Zuckerman, 2001) • Primer of Travel Medicine (Leggat et al., 2002)
Specific WWW sites Internet Guide to Travel Health by Connor, 2004 (Harworth Press) • Older travelers • Elderly travelers (http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/general/elderly.html) • FirstGov for seniors-travel and leisure (http://www.firstgov.gov/topics/seniors.shtml) • Infirm travelers (http://www.faa.gov/acr) (Karl Newman)
General WWW resources • www.who.int/ith • www.cdc.gov/travel • www.istm.org
Last word • Fortunately, most older persons that are traveling are in good health. • None-the-less, aging is accompanied by a global immune deficit, which increases the incidence of cancers (55% of cancers occur after 65 years), auto-immune diseases, and infectious morbidity and mortality. • It is important that older travelers must be encouraged to present for a pre-travel health consultation and obtain appropriate travel insurance.