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You’re never too old to fly but here are the health risks to consider

While many people the monarch’s age might prefer to take it easy after receiving treatment for cancer, instead the King intends to fly to Australia this autumn, and has said he “remains hopeful it will go ahead”. Even the most direct flight from the UK to Down Under requires 16 and a half hours in the air.

While many people the monarch’s age might prefer to take it easy after receiving treatment for cancer, instead the King intends to fly to Australia this autumn, and has said he “remains hopeful it will go ahead”. Even the most direct flight from the UK to Down Under requires 16 and a half hours in the air.

Not that age should ever hamper the spirit of adventure. As 82-year-old travel writer and author of Taking the Risk, Hilary Bradt says: “It’s laughable that anyone aged 65 should be considered ‘elderly’ when it comes to flying. I recently spent two consecutive nights on a plane in the company of several people older than me.”

Whether your own approach is gung-ho or more cautious, here are things worth considering before you book your flight.


What are the particular health concerns around flying as you get older?

“Just like other activities, flying long distances is harder on your body when you’re older,” says Dr Dev Patel, a Portsmouth GP and former Royal Navy doctor with experience of aviation medicine.

“Older travellers are more susceptible to the risks of flying because of their reduced mobility and their increased susceptibility to dehydration,” he explains. “Anyone who takes an aeroplane, especially on long-haul flights, carries the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It’s a small risk, but this does increase with age.

“What’s more, existing health conditions such as heart disease and respiratory issues can be exacerbated by air travel, especially over a sustained number of hours. I don’t personally know the King’s medical background, but I think it’s great he’s not allowing his cancer diagnosis to hold him back. And he will certainly be guided by his medical team, so if he takes care there is no reason why he shouldn’t fly.”

As eco-conscious as the King is, he’s unlikely to be flying in economy class.

“He will probably have the luxury of having more room to move about, which is important,” adds Dr Patel. “But like any mature flyer, there are measures he should take to remain as safe as possible.”


How to avoid DVT

Older adults run a higher-than-average risk of DVT, which happens when a blood clot forms in your deep veins and blocks blood flow, usually in your legs. Travel-related DVT can occur as a result of prolonged immobility from being kept in a cramped seat with limited leg room.

For healthy people, the absolute risk of getting DVT on a flight lasting less than four hours is one in 106,667 flights. But for flights lasting over 16 hours, this increases to one in 1,264 flights. This risk would be greater still at the age of 75.

“It’s crucial to try to get in as much movement while on board as you can,” says Dr Patel. “Try to stand up and walk down the aisle every two to three hours while the seat belt signs are off. If you can get to an area near the WC, there is usually more space to try some gentle stretching exercises. And ideally book a seat with additional leg room.

“Even when just sitting in your chair you can stretch your calves and rotate your feet as often as you can remember. There’s strong evidence supporting the use of compression stockings as a preventive measure since these work by improving blood circulation in the legs, reducing the risk of blood clots forming.”

For older travellers, or those with a history of DVT, speak to your healthcare professional about the possibility of taking anticoagulant medication.

Some people believe taking aspirin before a long flight helps to prevent DVT, but its effectiveness is debated, says Dr Patel. “While some studies suggest aspirin may offer some protection, particularly for those at higher risk, other research has found no significant benefits, or has highlighted potential risks associated with aspirin use, such as gastrointestinal bleeding.” It is essential to consult with your doctor before starting any new medication regimen, including aspirin, during air travel.


The need to stay hydrated

“This really is one of the most crucial bits of flying advice at any age, as the cabin air is very drying,” says Dr Patel. “I would advise steering clear of caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee and certainly alcohol (yes, even if it’s included for free) as these would only dehydrate you further. The gold standard advice is to drink water only. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, just keep drinking it. If it means more trips to the loo you’ll be moving more too.”


Be aware of taking any medications

“If you take medications such as pills for high blood pressure or any other existing pre-conditions, and will be crossing time zones, discuss with your GP whether you should take your medicines at your usual time at home or switch to the local time zone,” says Dr Patel.

The cheap pill boxes sold in chemists, which are divided and labelled into the days of the week, can be useful for keeping track of meds. Half the pleasure of travelling is surely trying new foods, but it’s wise to check that nothing you’re likely to eat will interact with your medications or health conditions.


High altitude when you have a heart or lung condition

The changes in cabin air pressure, decreased oxygen levels and limited access to medical care can make travelling with pre-existing lung conditions more risky.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may experience difficulty breathing at high altitudes. While the dry and recirculated cabin air can exacerbate respiratory symptoms. Air travel can trigger asthma and exposure to allergens or irritants in the aircraft can worsen asthma symptoms.

“It’s essential for anyone with a lung condition to consult with their healthcare provider before flying and receive personalised recommendations,” says Dr Patel. “In some cases, supplemental oxygen or adjustments to medication regimens can make flying more comfortable.


Flying with existing conditions (including cancer and dementia)

“Cancer is a process but not a single disease, so when it comes to flying there is no single rule,” says Dr Patel. “Fitness to fly would very much depend on the individual, although that said, DVT risk is higher if someone has cancer, so considering preventative measures is important.”

Air travel is not generally advised for the month after any surgery. With regards to dementia sufferers, says Dr Patel, it would be extremely prudent to travel with someone they are close to. “Unfamiliar environments can be very distressing. Airlines may also have a policy in place for this so it is worth checking with them before booking.”

“Even for mild dementia, it would be sensible to inform the crew on board so that they are aware and to have a letter from your doctor to support this.”


What are the benefits of flying when you’re older?

Travelling expands the mind and enriches your life whatever your age. The Telegraph’s hotel expert Fiona Duncan, 70, says: “One good thing about ageing is that I am no longer a nervous flyer,” she says. “I’m much more relaxed. I know I’ve had a good life.”

Duncan’s most recent long-haul flight was to India last October. She says her fragile sleep pattern was disrupted for days after arriving there, and weeks after returning home. But “mild sleeping pills helped me break the cycle of waking at odd hours”.

“In all the many years I have flown long-haul, I never ever ceased to wonder at the miracle of being in Heathrow Airport one minute and then somewhere incredible and thrilling just a few hours later,” says Duncan. “It has been the great privilege of my life.”

Meanwhile seasoned traveller Hilary Bradt –  who hitchhiked in Germany last year – says: “I wish we weren’t so hung up on safety rather than enjoyment these days. My only advice – to the King and anyone else in their 70s, 80s and beyond – is just do it.”


Source: Susanna Galton, Yahoo News UK


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