Traveling with the Frail and Elderly 

When it comes to traveling, whether it’s a simple vacation or moving a loved one state to state you need to fully assess the risks to your elderly parents health care. Here are several travel tips on how to travel with a fragile loved one.

What is Frailty?

First, we need to define what frailty even means. Frailty is a debilitating state where a loved one is weak, low in energy, and every movement is slowed down. Recently it has been acknowledged by the medical community that frailty is a medical condition and not simply someone ‘getting old’.

Chronic Pain

Those suffering in a fragile condition often have chronic pain. This further affects their mobility issues and presents a challenge for any form of travel.

In the back of any caregivers mind you are thinking- my mom can’t walk to the bathroom in her nursing home, how is she going to navigate a crowded airport? This an astute observation and you should pick the best transport option for your loved one. To be clear travel is possible even with chronic pain (unless your doctor advises otherwise). There are a few points in the travel process that are painful, but the rest of the trip can be uneventful.

Patience, Patience, and more Patience

As the family caregiver you are used to helping your loved one with daily activities. Traveling is no different so don’t forget the skills you’ve learned when you are on the road or in the sky. For example, ask your loved one what they want and listen to what they say. Assuming you know what they want will set you up to stumble and potentially have an episode.

Nancy Darling PhD. has 8 good habits for frail and aging parents. The simplest one is well suited for traveling. Hold your loved one’s hand. Darling goes on to say, “Sometimes what people need most is to know that they're loved. Often we care for the people in our lives because we love them. That's what makes it worthwhile.”

Know the Risks of Air Travel

Air travel does pose certain risks to the frail and elderly. Below is an abridged list that you should consider for your loved one. See the full review from the Department of Geriatric Medicine.


This is essentially a change in cognition due to the changing air pressures. This is frustrating in that it can be undetectable except through magnetic resonance scans. You might sense something is off if your fragile loved one acts delirious during or after the flight.


The leading in-flight death is cardiac related. If your loved one has had a stroke in 4 or less weeks, do not fly. Either postpone the trip or travel on the ground. Similarly if they have had a myocardinal infarct within 3 months, do not fly.

Deep Vein Thrombosis & Pulmonary Embolism

In layman's terms, if you sit for a long time you decrease your circulation and increase the risk of blood clots. These clots may present later after the travel experience.

The center for disease control and prevention offers this advice for travelers, “air travel may increase a person’s risk for VTE by 2- to 4-fold”. This increased risk has been confirmed by a group of researchers in a large study. They go onto point out other studies found:

“A similar increase in risk is also seen with other modes of travel, such as car, bus, or train, implying that the increase in risk is caused mainly by prolonged limited mobility rather than by the cabin environment.”

Buying that extra leg room in business class still won’t be enough to account for the limited mobility.

Effect on Body Gases

The pressure changes will also affect the gases inside your loved one’s body. Avoid carbonated drinks and gas-producing foods like beans, chewing gum, brussel sprouts.

Ear and Sinus problems

Severe ear pain, tinnitus, or vertigo occurs in 9% of air travelers. That statistic is for all ages so you can imagine your frail loved one has an even higher chance of being impacted. Loved ones with a middle ear and sinus problems will have an extremely painful experience and possibly cause damage to their health.

Motion Sickness

Those in a frail condition are more prone to motion sickness. The sudden lift off and any turbulence along the way may leave them feeling nauseous. This can lead to dehydration and a host of other scenarios. Plan ahead and bring an anti nausea band or anti nausea medicine prescribed by their doctor.

Other measures you can take are to select seats away from the engines and closer to the planes center of gravity (ie the inside seats slightly behind the wings). Some experts also recommend flying at night to reduce the visual elements.

Pre-flight Evaluation

This was an intense list full of fancy medical terms. If your loved one is recently out of the hospital or in a frail condition ask your medical provider to do a pre-flight evaluation on their ability to cope with the stresses of flying.

Plan well

Don’t forget the simple items like light jackets to control your loved one’s core temperature.

Road trips

When going on the road with an elderly parent remember the basics. Plan on frequent stops, every 2 hours. Scott Bautch, DC, a member of the American Chiropractic Association’s explains that sitting for a prolonged period is hard on the body and will increase fatigue.

Most likely you will need the restroom too. Plan on each of these stops adding an hour to your trip. Your aging parent is moving slowly but you need to be sensitive to their health condition. Haste makes waste applies here and any rush to ‘get it over with’ can put you in a nightmare incident.

Alternatives to flying or driving

If you have doubt about your loved one flying or driving long distances it might be a good idea to look into alternative travel services like a medical transport. Comfortable travel with elderly parents travel is possible with Jitterbug Travel’s unique medical transport.