Air Travel with Parkinson's Disease

Bon Voyage!

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I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t let Parkinson’s disease take away what you love to do if at all possible. For many this includes travel. But as in many situations, there are certain things you can do to make the situation easier and more enjoyable. Here are some tips that you may find helpful.

  1. Make sure you pack enough medication. Not only should you cover the number of days you are away but always pack extra. You never know what could possibly happen – your bag stolen, your pills may fall etc. To get medications when you are away is no easy task. You must see a physician, have them write you a new prescription and then find a pharmacy to fill it – a costly and difficult crisis to resolve particularly when you are in a foreign country when culture and language can pose significant barriers.  Carry your medication supply in your hand luggage so that it is with you at all times. Checked luggage may be lost and although other items can be easily replaced without too much inconvenience, your medication cannot.
  1. Consult your physician regarding your medication schedule once you know your travel itinerary. A change in your sleeping schedule, activity demands and time zone differences will all impact your symptoms. Your physician can help adjust your treatment regimen to account for these factors and make your travel experience easier.
  2. Carry snacks with you. Anyone who has experienced a long flight knows that the meals or snacks come at odd times and frankly, can be less than appetizing. Bring your own food so that you can eat according to your own schedule particularly if you’re prone to nausea when you take your medications on a completely empty stomach.
  3. Keep well hydrated. Dehydration is fairly common during flights and can cause you to feel unwell. Not drinking enough fluids (not including caffeine or alcoholic beverages) can also lead to a drop in blood pressure when you stand up (orthostatic hypotension) which is already a known complication in Parkinson’s disease and increases your risk of falling.
  1. Choose your seat carefully. If traveling alone, an aisle seat may be a better choice. Being stuck between two people you don’t know may be uncomfortable particularly if  your symptoms or dyskinesias are active. Also if possible, seats with extra leg room may cost more but the additional space to stretch out may be worth it.
  1. Stretch often. Getting up frequently and walking around is important for everyone that flies to prevent the formation of blood clots in your legs. Stretching your calf muscles by pointing your toes up and down can accomplish the same thing if you would prefer to be at your seat. Don’t forget to take scheduled breaks, perhaps every half hour to stretch your arms, back and neck as well as your legs to help with the inevitable stiffening that is aggravated when you are in one position for an extended time.
  2. Be careful when moving about the aircraft. Problems with balance is a known issue that those of us with Parkinson’s face. So given the cramped cabin space and potential turbulence, you must be extra careful to avoid falling.
  3. Travel as light as possible. Your carry on in particular should be as manageable as possible. Walking through the airport, going through security, moving on and off the aircraft, can all be difficult. Holding heavy or cumbersome hand luggage only makes the whole experience much more difficult and tiring.
  4. Know your destination and the medical care available. Are you going to an urban center or somewhere more isolated? What are the best hospitals available for foreigners? Are there any good walk-in type clinics for minor issues? Is there a facility for neurologic issues that might be accessible to you should you need some help with your Parkinson’s symptoms or medications? Hopefully you will never require any medical assistance while you are away but having researched this information ahead of time may be invaluable should the need arise.
  1. Consider traveling with someone. Not only can sharing the experience of travel be more enjoyable, but it also helps to have someone assist with basic logistics and tasks. If you prefer to travel on your own or it is not possible to have someone accompany you, then consider accessing the provisions that the airlines have in place such as wheelchair services and pre-boarding times.

With proper planning and by taking appropriate precautions, you can continue to enjoy traveling despite the symptoms of your disease. Being prepared is key – bon voyage!

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