September 26th, 2011 at 1:29 pm
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Elders and traveling: staying one step ahead

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

On a recent trip to the west coast from Ohio, I had two entirely different experiences. The flight attendant making the announcements on the flight to California was articulate and easy-to-understand. On the way home, the information was difficult to understand as the flight attendant spoke quickly in a soft voice. While everyday travelers simply dismiss the messages as routine, what about infrequent travelers or individuals with hearing, vision or memory problems?

One patient, who now has short-term memory problems, reported–after a trip to see family–she would not travel again if she had to change planes because the process of checking in, going through security and getting to the gate on time for the next flight was too stressful.

Traveling and elders

There are two inherent elements in the travel industry, a demanding and fast pace, and complex, always-changing information. Unfortunately, those two elements spell trouble for many seniors and people with hearing, vision or cognitive difficulties. Consider these two scenarios I experienced during that recent trip I mentioned.

Faster pace. While waiting in the line to pass through security, the gentleman ahead of me was having trouble taking off his shoes. In turn, the person behind him became impatient and moved ahead of him, rather than offering assistance.

After the older gentleman retrieved his jacket, shoes and cane, he was blocking the way of other travelers. A woman finally helped him when she noticed he almost lost his balance. In these circumstances, he was doing the best he could, moving as quickly as he could. Yet, everyone else around him seemed to be moving in fast forward.

Complex and changing information. I was a few hours early for my flight and the gate for my flight alone changes twice in that 4-hour period. Then, while waiting to board the plane, several fellow travelers and I were gathered around the information board at the gate. There were flashing announcements and we were trying to figure out what they meant. At the same time, there were calls for passengers traveling on standby. A woman, who was traveling alone, asked me for assistance since she was confused. With all of the messages flying around, coupled with the hustle and bustle in the terminal, it’s not surprising that travelers would be confused.

Thankfully, she asked for assistance.

Elders and traveling: plan ahead

Remember, when it comes to elders and traveling, planning is vital. It is very easy to assume everything will be okay if your loved one has traveled successfully in the past without any issues. Yet, as we all know, the experience of flying continues to change on a nearly daily basis.

The most common pitfalls include changing gate numbers and delayed/cancelled flight announcements. If your loved on doesn’t hear the announcement about the flight or gate change, or has vision problems and can’t see the changes on the flight information screen, they could miss their flight.

Indeed, when traveling, there are numerous factors out of the traveler’s control. Be sure you understand your loved one’s ability to travel alone and to set up contingency plans if anything goes awry during the trip. Yes, the airline industry moves rapidly, with careful planning, you can make sure it slows down just a step for you loved one.

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