Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system caused due to the dying dopaminergic neurons in the nigro-striatal region of the brain. It is a disease of gradual onset, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. The disease often goes undetected for a long time as the motor symptoms like tremors, rigidity, stiffness, slowing of movements, hunched over back takes years to develop.
The clinical diagnosis is based on the neurological examination conducted by experienced and knowledgeable neurophysician. However, once the diagnosis is made, it paves way to the start of a difficult journey leading to a myriad of new challenges for the disabled as well as their family. Parkinson’s disease usually affects the individuals in their golden years of relaxation. However, the disability must not hamper the way of enjoying a memorable travel experience, whether with the child, spouse or a close friend.
Parkinson’s disease, unless in the late stages, should not be a contraindication for traveling, provided adequate preparations are made in advance. Although it may be intimidating for a PD patient to consider traveling to distant unfamiliar places, certain basic considerations, if kept in mind, can make the trip comfortable, enjoyable, and problem-free.
Preparing for your Trip
- The idea of trip might feel daunting but one must plan their trip well in advance. This will spare time to consult with the doctor regarding various aspects of the trip. An assessment of your condition will allow him to suggest how far you should be able to travel comfortably – whether to the next state, across the border, or to a overseas destination.
- Your doctor can recommend which form of travel (air, road or sea) will be best suited for you.
- If your drug regimen has changed, it is better to start it well before your trip so that the effect of the drug can be monitored and any necessary adjustments in dosage can be made prior to your journey.
- It is advisable that you carry with you a summary of your illness, present disabilities, and current medication with dosage written by your doctor.
- Enquire from your doctor about other drugs that you might need during your trip, such as for fever, diarrhea, motion sickness, and vomiting. Your doctor will ensure that none of these medicines will result in drug interactions with your PD medicines.
- If traveling by air, request for special meals as recommended by your doctor.
- Find out about medical insurance coverage when traveling abroad.
- The role of a good travel companion must not be overlooked. Travel with someone who is well versed with the daily routine and urgent requirements of the patient. Make sure the travel companion knows everything about the medications including the contact details of the Parkinson’s disease specialist.
- If the patient is travelling alone, one must never overestimate their abilities. Road travel by a car must be split into short distances with frequent stops or by sharing the driving with someone else. Most of the Parkinson’s medications can make the patient drowsy, especially after eating. If the patient is driving alone, a nap must be taken before the departure.
- Usually a road trip by car is easier because it gives you the flexibility of traveling at your own pace. Always consider alternative to flying, as airports can be stressful for anyone even with or without the neurodegenerative Parkinson’s disease. Also planes generally do not have much of the space to move about and stretch the muscles.
- Inform the airport authorities about the disability during the booking stage itself. Claim your rights as the travelling companion of the disabled person. The airport and the railway station authorities are in charge of providing the wheelchairs, making necessary arrangements for boarding and bypassing the checkpoints.
- Always carry diagnostic letter and the prescription from the neurologist stating the condition of the patient to avoid the extra scrutiny and checkpoints at the airports and railway station. Also the confirmation letter from a neurophysician comes handy when the Parkinson’s disease patients are usually mistaken for being intoxicated before boarding a flight.
- Always carry a fanny pack or a back pack to place your prescription, medications, wallet and tickets so that your hands are free and both the hands can be utilised for holding the grab bars and to maintain physical balance while walking the corridors and stair cases.
- Consideration of travel time is important too. With PD, you may tire easily, so long journeys are best avoided.
- Plane journeys of more than 3 hours are not recommended since movement becomes difficult after sitting for a long time. However, air travel is often the best option these days so you should try walking around in the plane or if you can afford it, opt for a business class seat.
- Using a wheelchair at the airport will prevent you from getting tired due to unnecessary walking.
- Travel light. Check in most of your baggage.
- Request an aisle seat, as near to the exit as possible.
- Bathrooms in the plane may be uncomfortable to maneuver in, so use the bathroom before getting on the plane.
- Taking a cruise may be a relaxing way of traveling.
- It is a good idea to travel with a companion. Not only does the trip become more enjoyable, but a person by your side may be of help in case of any unforeseen difficulties.
- Remember to keep all your medication on you whenever you are traveling. In the event of lost luggage, you still have your essential medicines with you.
- Some PD medicines may cause drowsiness. Be careful about driving if you are on such drugs.
- Use a watch alarm or alarm pillbox for remembering to take your medicines on time if you are traveling in different time zones.
- Take extra medicines with you during your travels to last the entire trip. While there are options available in every country, you do not want to fall prey to unscrupulous vendors supplying counterfeit medicines.
- When considering accommodation at your destination, be sure that your room is conveniently located, preferably on the ground floor or near the elevator and accessible by wheelchair. Rooms with handicap installments in the bathroom will be additional features to look for.
- Keep in hand the contact details of doctors and hospitals that you may need in case of emergency.