Tips for Traveling with Parkinson’s Disease

“While traveling might be more difficult for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, it is not impossible.  Here are some tips to consider to help those with Parkinson’s disease travel more easily…”

When Gayle finally retired from teaching 8th grade Algebra, she always said that she would miss the classroom dearly but looked forward to having the new freedom to visit her grandkids any time she pleased.  With six grandchildren scattered across three different states, the following years were filled with countless plane rides and last minute road-trips to visit her beloved family.  This all started to change a year ago when, at the age of 71, Gayle was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after developing a tremor in her right hand and experiencing some difficulty walking.  Though she started taking medications for Parkinson’s disease, Gayle still finds it difficult to travel to see her grandkids as often as she likes.

Like Gayle, over 1 million individuals in North America have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  Most individuals exhibit symptoms that involve a tremor, slowness of movement, and rigid muscles, which can make daily activities increasingly difficult.  While traveling might be more difficult for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, it is not impossible.  Here are some tips to consider to help those with Parkinson’s disease travel more easily.

Flying with Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Prepare In Advance: When booking your flight, request a disability seat or a seat near the airplane entrance.  Contact the airline ahead of time and request assistance to help you through the airport and boarding the plane.  All major airports and airlines have accommodations for persons requiring extra help, be sure to ask!
  2. Direct Flights are your Friend: Reduce the stress of travel by booking a direct flight if at all possible.  You will not have to worry about missing your connecting flight and save all your energy for your final destination.
  3. TSA Pre-Check is Worth It: While there is a one-time fee, obtaining TSA Pre-Check will save you time at security and reduce the stress of traveling.  On the topic of security, be sure to talk with a TSA official about your medical condition.  If you have a Deep Brain Stimulator, you should not go through the standard metal detectors, as this may interfere with your equipment.  Carry your medical equipment card at all times and present this to the TSA official.  Kindly inform the official that you must avoid the detector and will need a pat down because you have an implantable medical device.

On The Road with Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Cover Long Distances in Short Segments: One benefit of driving compared to air travel is the ability to travel at your own pace.  Parkinson’s symptoms can often become worse when sitting still for long periods of time.  As you plan your road trip, prepare to take frequent rests stops to stretch your muscles.
  2. Travel with a Friend or a Caregiver: While many individuals in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease may drive around town and run errands on their own, it is important not to underestimate the physical demand a long road trip requires.  It is important to take road trips with a friend, family member, or even a companion caregiver who can help drive if needed.  Additionally, some Parkinson’s medications can cause drowsiness as a side effect.  Remember to put safety first and let your traveling partner drive if you are feeling tired or sleepy.

Some Final Tips for Traveling with Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Keep your Medications Close at All Times: Whether flying or driving, keep your medications in a location that is easily accessible and that stays with you at all times.  
  2. Compile Your Medical File: When traveling, you can never predict when an emergency may arise, requiring you to seek medical care in an unfamiliar place.  It is a good idea to compile a folder with information about your medical conditions, and keep this close to you.  Include a progress note from your last physician visit, a list of all medications and allergies, a summary of any recent hospitalizations, as well as insurance information.  Remember that you have a legal right to the health care information stored in your chart at a doctor’s office or hospital, but it may take time to print-off this information, so ask in advance! Preferred Care at Home’s Personal Health Record is a great way to organize your medical file. 
  3. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!  While traveling with Parkinson’s disease has its challenges, try not to let these challenges overshadow the happiness that is to be found from visiting new places and seeing friends and family.  

If you have any hesitation or concerns about your personal situation, talk with your doctor about ways to optimize your medical condition so that you can keep experiencing the joy of travel.

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