5 Rules of Taking Medications While Traveling

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Today's seniors seem to be more comfortable traveling than ever before: According to a 2018 survey by AARP, just over half of all Baby Boomers plan on taking a vacation overseas this year. And while traveling can be risky for people of any age, seniors—who tend to have more pre-existing conditions than their younger counterparts—might have to take a few extra precautions to safeguard their health.

One such precaution? Sticking to their prescribed medication regimen. About 92% of people aged 65 and older have taken at least one prescription in the past 30 days—and about 68% of them have taken at least three prescriptions in the past month, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For most people, "missing one dose of medication is usually no big deal," says Ronan Factora, a geriatrician with the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. "But for people with complex regimens, you have to be more careful." Use these tips to stay on schedule.


1. Schedule your doses — with a little help from your doctor

Adjusting your medication regimen to a new time zone is a "highly individualized" process, says Dr. Factora, and you shouldn't hesitate to call your doctor and ask him or her to write you out a schedule of exactly when to take each medication. In general, however, your doctor may want you to take your pills at the same time of the day as you normally do—i.e., if you take a pill in the evening at home, you should take it in the evening at your destination, too. "That might put an additional 8 to 12 hours of gap between the doses," says Dr. Factora, "and for most medications, that will be fine."

On the other hand, if you take a medication at specific time intervals—say, every 4 to 6 hours to control your Parkinson's symptoms, for example—you may have to keep track of the time that has elapsed and continue taking the pills while you're en route to your destination. Then, once you arrive, you can re-sync your schedule to the local time.

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2. Get organized

If you'll be traveling for a week or two, it's a good idea to bring your pillbox with you. While traveling to your destination, you might also want to parcel out your medications in travel containers, marked with the date or time that you plan on taking them, says Dr. Factora. (Keep in mind, however, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping meds in their original, labeled containers and a packing a copy of your prescription when traveling to another country.)

3. Be mindful of how much medication you're taking

If you're taking a higher dose of medication, you'll want to be careful that you don't exceed the maximum daily dosage or accidentally take an additional dose in the same 24-hour period, says Dr. Factora. Excessive doses of certain medications, including statins, antidepressants, and low blood pressure meds, can all trigger side effects, he says.

4. Store your meds at room temperature

Don't stash your meds in your beach bag—or hotel's bathroom "medicine cabinet," for that matter. "High humidity levels—from the sink or bathtub, for example—can start to break down medications," says Dr. Factora. Likewise, so can exposing pills and tablets to high heat for a long period of time. Find a cool place to stash your medications, or, if they need to be kept cold, store them in the hotel's refrigerator.

5. Drink up

If you're dehydrated—say, you spent a little too long soaking up the sun earlier that morning—taking certain medications could cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy, says Dr. Factora. "Seniors are more prone to dehydration because, as we get older, the amount of water in our body actually goes down and the desire for thirst is not as strong," he says. "It doesn't take very much [water loss] for you to start to feel symptoms."

Signs of mild or moderate dehydration can include a dry, sticky mouth, and headaches and muscle cramps, but people with severe dehydration can experience confusion, dizziness, a racing heartbeat, and rapid breathing. If that's the case, you may need to call 911 and be treated at a hospital.

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