Aging Parents and Elders Traveling Alone: Airplanes


    My aunt Millie (Dad’s sister) died in Oregon, 3 months short of her 100th birthday.  Dad, who was 91, was on the next morning’s flight from California to Oregon–alone.
    To backtrack–

My husband and I were in California for my high school reunion. I stayed on after the pre-reunion dinner while my husband drove my dad and a classmate’s 98-year-old mother back to where they were staying. They were met by news of Aunt Millie’s death.

My husband, a man of responsible action, immediately made a plane reservation for Dad to fly to Oregon to join his family the next morning. Dad had already begun packing his small case by the time I came in.

While that seemed logical to us, it astonished our friends. They were aghast at the fact we were “letting” Dad fly by himself at his age. We never gave it a second thought. Were we in denial?

Dad was in good shape. (Yes, he had 5 heart bypasses at age 76, but that didn’t curtail his life or his mind.) We would walk him to the gate; my brother would pick him up when he came through security at the Oregon airport. The plane crew was–hopefully–well-trained, should there be any problems…..probably better-trained than we. Why the fuss from our friends?

Does this highlight differing philosophies regarding responsibly empowering parents vs. parenting parents? Dad was independent; had a good head on his shoulders. How demeaning and counterproductive it would be to undermine his confidence…not to mention his pride!

Ditto for my recently deceased mil, R, former Sr. Advisor to this blog. When she flew 2000 miles to visit us at age 98 (she really wanted to see our new apartment so she could picture us in our daily lives), we didn’t dwell on the fact she’d recovered from broken hip surgery 15 months before. She wanted to come. We got her a first-class ticket (air miles help in this regard), selected her aisle seat and requested wheelchair service. A nephew took her to the plane (didn’t accompany her to the gate–the wheelchair attendant did that) and we greeted her at Kennedy when the wheelchair attendant brought her from the baggage claim area.

I think Mother, unlike R or Dad, would have been nervous flying alone when elderly (at 88 she predeceased Dad). We can’t be certain how we’ll react to something until we go through it, so the following is hypothetical.

If mother really wanted to fly to visit her aging brother, because she had a good mind I would have tried empowering her with a logical explanation: “You’ll have a wheel chair, I’ll go with you to the gate, Tom will pick you up at the other end, and the flight crew has better training than us if anything unexpected should happen.” If she was still nervous, I’d inquire about using the Unaccompanied Minor Program (additional fee, uniformed employees assist from the point of departure to the final destination) or a family member would accompany her…but I’d try empowering first.

I’m comfortable with that, but realize many are not. Clearly when elders have certain physical needs or dementia, consulting their physician before making plans is a must.

RE: comfortable. We want our elders to have a comfortable flight. While pillows and blankets are traditional First Class amenities, having a shawl or sweater in case the cabin is cold–and because elders are usually colder than younger people– makes sense whether flying First or Economy Class. Many passengers like those U-shaped neck supports or a small pillow. It’s also sensible for elders to have hand sanitizer (in the plastic quart-size, zip-lock bag with their liquids).

Travel is stimulating–something elders can look forward to. It produces happy memories that last and help sustain. Combine that with research validating the importance of connections with others in aging well, and elder travel is a win-win for those healthy enough. Is It Better for Parents or Better for Us? Will Actions Empower or Diminish? Two Key Thoughts (see right sidebar) can help with decisions about elders flying alone.

Here’s to happy travels for seniors this summer. A visit to adult children and/or their grandchildren perhaps?.
Related: Airports, Aging Parents, Elders: Happy or Pain-Producing Experience 2015 Part 1    Airports, Travel, Aging Parents, Elders: Happy or Pain-Producing Experience 2015 Part 2

Traveling Tips for the Elderly  Read comments; some–not all–tips seem sensible to me; also American Airlines offers senior fares on some domestic flights.
Victoria Kong Dies at Airport:  A tragic experience that makes a point.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

Airports /Travel for Aging Parents and Elders Traveling Alone: Happy or Pain Producing? 2015–Part 2

Old People Can Fly Alone. My Octogenarian Parents Did; so did My MIL at age 98. But navigating the airport is stressful.

What stresses seniors (and many younger travelers)–at airports? There’s a certain tension connected with flying today. Excluding fear of flying, it includes 7 stressors:

1.  Worry about being late–missing the flight.
2.  Not packing correctly for TSA
3.  Uncertainty about hearing announcements in the airport correctly.
4.  Fear of not finding the way to the gate, especially in large airports.
5.  Confusion about TSA requirements.
6.  Being unable to remove shoes, belts etc. quickly–thus delaying everyone at the conveyor belt screening.
7.  TSA finding something suspicious necessitating a pat-down; or the scanner detecting–unintentional, but prohibited–items (bottle of water, foil-wrapped food, over-large plastic bottles) and confiscating them.

Having our aging parents (my mom and dad; my husband’s mother) cross the country to come for Thanksgiving each year (until they reached their 90’s) was special for all of us. I don’t think my husband and I realized the planning and energy it took for them to travel as they aged. While the majority of that travel was before 9/11,  9/11 and their old age made our help more important.

1. If parents are elderly and insecure about air travel, relieve their anxiety about being late with information that you give them credit for already knowing.  Use statements like: “I know you’ve thought of this, but leaving the house at (insert time) should get you to the airport without stress/in plenty of time.” Stated this way it isn’t diminishing.

2.  Legitimizing that they’re perfectly capable ask if they’d like a little help organizing the clothes they’re taking and/or with packing. Remind them of TSA prohibited items; also that their medications should be in their carry-on and their ticket and ID should be together in a place they can get to easily and quickly. One checked-in suitcase and one carry-on that fits in the overhead bins or under the seat in front should suffice for 1-2 week trips.

A larger-than-carry-on-size suitcase with wheels that gets checked, plus a carry-on with or without wheels– depending if it’s lightweight when packed–work well.The key is thinking ahead about clothing needed and what makes sense to put in which case.

R laid out her things-to-be-packed 2 days ahead of time, then added and subtracted as she rethought her needs. My dad always packed, with cases ready, the day before. Mother sometimes ended up leaving things she needed. I learned the pharmacist we used could give her 1 dose of medication, while waiting for the prescription (for the pills she’d forgotten) to be faxed to him.

3. When elders have hearing issues–even small ones–it’s good to remind them that some announcements may be hard to understand because of a foreign accent or a lot of noise in the terminal.  Legitimize their asking the person next to them about any announcement they don’t hear fully. Sometimes it’s a gate change.

4.  Walking to the gate can take a few minutes OR many. Make certain aging parents double-check “Arrivals and Departure” screen for their airline as soon as they see it. Thus, they confirm their gate # right away and know where to go. Remind them gates are listed by airline with destination city in alphabetical order.  Here is where a person in the wheel chair with an attendant has an advantage. They automatically goes to the front of the TSA regular line for screening of self and carry-ons AND later pre-board the plane first.

5.  Make certain you and your parents are up-to-date on the latest TSA requirements by googling the airline and double-checking. My husband also always checks the gate number online a few hours before going to the airport–after there was a terminal change at Kennedy one time and he had to re-hail a taxi to get him to the adjoining terminal.

6.  When we can review TSA screening requirements with elders–ahead of time (shoes and belts off, pockets free of everything, computers off)–there should  be no surprises for elders who don’t travel often or have imperfect memories. Even knowledgeable people make mistakes  and get stressed. Example:

On my last fight the 30-something going through security ahead of me had prepared yogurt with healthy grains and fruit. Foil was an integral part of the packaging. This was an early morning flight. She hadn’t had breakfast. All was confiscated; she was angry, but had no recourse and needed to move on as line behind her grew–along with the people’s impatience.

Remind aging parents to ask any strong guy in line or the TSA person to help lifting heavy items/cases on the conveyer belt. No use getting a hernia!

7.  The TSA people I spoke with on my last 2 trips, say pat-downs take into consideration the fact passengers are in a wheel chair. Another plus for using a wheel chair. Indeed it also eliminates the preceding stressors #3-6.

Having TSA PreCheck, on the other hand, eliminates #6 and 7. At Kennedy last week the “TSA commander” of the PreCheck line was a showman as he explained not taking off shoes, belt etc. and what can’t legally be taken on board. PreCheck passengers suddenly responded throwing out water bottles they must have forgotten.

When questioned, the “commander” said that PreCheck passengers in wheel chairs had to wait their turn in the PreCheck line, so attendants usually went to the regular line, where they were immediately ushered to the front.  So it was quicker.

Just as most airlines have forms available at check-in that allow parents to take an unaccompanied minor to the gate, the same “courtesy” is usually given to the person accompanying an aging parent or friend so check it out. Remember this entails your going through security also–so throw out your water bottle! And don’t have anything in your purse, for example, that is on the ‘forbidden’ list or it will be confiscated.

As we try to help parents and the elders we care about age well, bringing family members together and expanding older adults’ horizons through air travel makes sense–definitely worth the extra time and effort that we put into it.

Aging Parents: A Halloween Activity ~ in the City or the Suburbs…..planning ahead…(especially for elderly who don’t get out)

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re a treat for all ages and are becoming increasingly widespread. Indoors and out-of-doors these decorations are so much more elaborate than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood. However…..

Are aging parents and older people getting out to see them?
And–How can we make this happen?

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

Country Farm Stand in Oct. Can you see the tractor in back?

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with

Halloween-themed inflatables–plus ghosts and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial establishments dress up for Halloween. Even New York City townhouses get fancied-up for the occasion–a friendly ghost, a sedate townhouse’s front stoop. City sidewalks may also yield surprises. Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to take older people out for a great change of scenery?

And what about an evening drive when lighted Halloween displays create a theatrical atmosphere? Whether it’s day or night, how many old and/or somewhat infirmed people rarely go out, spending most of their time indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities?  Still others don’t drive–or don’t drive unfamiliar roads or at night.

For older people who are able to get into a car–with or without our help–going for a ride provides countless opportunities for stimulation and lifted spirits. Anticipating the event is an added bonus if we make the date ahead of time.

We arranged an outing last year. It turned out to be a dreary day–yet we had smiles on our faces as each Halloween display came into view. There was anticipation as we turned a corner to a new block. We never knew what to expect, although I did a “dry run” ahead of time several years ago to scope out decorated neighborhoods. They haven’t disappointed. While a drive to the country or suburbs is a change of pace for city dwellers, cities yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget decorations in store windows and malls.

Any outing that gets older people out, seeing something new, is a win-win: stimulation, companionship, something to think about long after the event itself. Indeed we know major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well.

We may have limited free time and our elders may have limited staying power, in which case a “dry run” could be in order. Whether carefully planned or spontaneous, the benefits of a ride–long or short–are clearly worth the time and effort.

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people. Isn’t is great when we can give them a treat!

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities–plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Easter and Passover Treats–a Very Short Outing

Happy EasterHolidays provide endless opportunities to help parents age well. Taking elders out for a change of scenery is one–especially for those who are basically housebound, mobility challenged, or don’t venture forth except for essentials like doctors’ appointments. It’s uplifting, muscles are exercised, and it can be exciting–like those field trips we went on in grade school.

First, simply being with others–namely us–is special, even for grumpy and depressed elders who don’t readily admit it. Second, outings needn’t be a big deal. (The biggest deal may be helping elders get in and out of the car.) But the outing is a big deal for them.

Ahead of time, while on errands, be on the lookout for colorful/fun displays. Check out  Passoverdisplays at markets, florists, and specialty stores. While upscale stores aren’t necessary destinations, these stores no doubt put more money into displays. Take note of the ones that deserve a return visit.

Bakeries offer endless possibilities for Passover and Easter. Treats for the eyes and the taste buds. What’s more beautiful or delicious than colorful macaroons? No doubt French bakeries everywhere have tried to replicate LaDuree’s beauties.

IMG_2976And who doesn’t love tasty little gifts! At 100, Sr. Advisor R prefers small. Several small cupcakes are perfect for her.

Cupcakes on a stick are different andCupcakes on Sticks certainly pretty. Men–at least those I know–prefer the old fashion size. Bigger is better. Note the two sizes above. Of course all cupcakes are not pastel. And some have additional decorations–bunnies etc.


While simply looking into the bakery cases delights the eye, what’s better than eating some of these sweets? And when shopping carts are available for less-confident walking older people, we hit a home run in our efforts to help parents age well: stability when walking; feeling normal (others use shopping carts); confidence to explore; exercise…and the sweets.


Related: Aging Parents: Ideas/Thoughts for Passover and Easter

Photos: AJ’s, CVS, Safeway
NYC 2013 Ralph Lauren window
Click to enlarge


Easter Window



Click to Enlarge

Aging Parents: Feel-Good Outing Ideas~ After A Long, Cold Winter

2013 Philadelphia Flower Show

2013 Philadelphia Flower Show

Feel-good Outings

Aging parents needn’t be couch potatoes to feel depression or cabin fever due to a harsh winter. It’s easy for anyone! Cold, an absence of sunshine, and slippery sidewalks can make anyone feel cranky, if not depressed. “Trapped in the house,” “Looking at the four walls.” I’ve heard these expressions from elders, no doubt so have you.

And “cranky” may not go away easily. Negatives like a bad health diagnosis, another friend’s problem,  the world’s problems, not to mention loss of a friend, pet, or part of a support system (dentist, hair dresser) add to being miserable.

If one is clinically depressed, we’re dealing with something entirely different and it needs to be checked out with a parent’s physician. If it’s crankiness, however, getting out of the house for something interesting, different, fun and/or entertaining can make a difference. And if we introduce the plan ahead of time, elders can look forward to the event for many days, which helps lift spirits. Sr. Advisor R calls that “a carrot.”

Always dependable: a movie (not Netflix in this instance) out of the house, at the theater…not far away. Smell (eat?) the popcorn, fall asleep if necessary in a comfortable seat, escape the unhappy present temporarily for the screen’s environment.

For feel-good outings and (depending on where you live) a farther-away destination with aging parents, consider:

1. Heard Indian Market, March 1 and 2 in Phoenix, Arizona. Escape the winter weather.  A jacket or sweater suffices in the early morning; by mid-morning be ready to shed it.  Indian Market offers outdoor entertainment (dance, music), good food, exhibitions of basket making, weaving, pottery, jewelry making… And there’s no better place to view a huge assortment of–and purchase–fine crafts, inexpensive to very expensive, from over 600 American Indians. Although I’ve seen people in wheel chairs, aging parents with decent mobility do better. The market is set up in the very large parking area and the adjoining open space of the Heard Museum.

2. The Philadelphia Flower Show--March 1-9: the biggest Flower Shows in the US is, on the other hand, handicap accessible. And it’s glorious! Being totally surrounded in the Convention Center by Spring, in Winter–especially this year–is priceless.  (Wheelchairs are for rent until they run out.)

That said, check out membership. Dual membership comes with 2 free tickets and that’s a savings; but what I especially like is being able to rest in comfortable chairs and have free tea and/or coffee in the Members’ Lounge, as opposed to sitting on the hard folding chairs along the walls at the perimeter of the show. The show is so big, everyone takes a break at some point.

3. Portland Flower Show,  “Storybook Gardens,” March 6-9 in Maine. Website is currently being updated so come back soon for more info.

4. The Boston Flower and Garden Show, March 12-15, at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. Have heard wonderful reports in past years. Over 150 home and garden vendors, huge display gardens, horticulture society representation, and garden lectures this year. Limited wheelchairs on a first come, first serve basis.

4. Chicago Flower and Garden Show, March 15-23, is the last of the early East and Mid-West Flower Shows.

5. San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 16-23 in San Mateo, Calif. Looks good.

6. The Coronado (Calif) Flower Show,  April 27-29, is no doubt wonderful.  The San Diego area is a gardener’s paradise. And the landscape at Balboa Park, where the famous San Diego zoo is located and not far from Coronado, is horticulturally gorgeous. Simply being in the Coronado/La Jolla area can lift the spirit.
*            *            *

If flowers aren’t for everyone, what about auto and boat shows to help elders forget winter and look forward? Check out the 2014 Auto Shows of North America Schedule. Also check out the calendar. Some boat shows have just begun–or are about to begin now–including:

1. New England Boat Show (Boston) Feb. 22-March 2
2. St. Louis Boat and Sportshow (Feb. 26-March 2)

There’s a World Flower Show in Dublin, Ireland March 18-22
Philadelphia Flower Show preview video
A look at last year’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show
More Philadelphia Flower Show specifics

Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.


NYC Sidewalk Display

NYC Sidewalk Display

Halloween is one of those festive holidays. Decorations abound–displays in store windows; on suburban lawns; in New York City’s postage-stamp-size yards, even on the sidewalks of NY outside of two restaurants I passed today.

When our parents are young-old, chronologically or psychologically, they’re usually out and about interacting with others, with plenty of exposure to the black cats, ghosts, witches, pumpkins etc.–at grocery stores and super markets, gas stations and malls–and, of course, bakeries and candy stores.

I remember my parents coming back to visit in late October one year. They were mobile and could drive. They were in their ’70’s. Halloween night stands out, with the excitement that each ring of the doorbell created for these active seniors. With that in mind, I share ideas for involving aging parents in the Halloween fun.

 Invite aging parents to your home to marvel at
the trick-or-treaters’ costumes.

Dad loved answering the door bell’s ring–then seeing the little kids in costume. Their high pitched’ “trick or treat” elicited his compliments about their scary look, great costume etc. They beamed at the compliments as they took their candy. Dad beamed back.  Mother, in the background, seemed happy to replenish the candy supply. She too had a big smile on her face as she watched these excited little kids having such a good time.

It was then I realized what a fun night Halloween could be for older parents at their adult childrens’ homes. From watching the grandchildren get made-up and into costume, to answering the front door and dispensing candy (we had healthier treats in later years), it was pure fun–double fun when the kids come home with their loot to be examined by all.

 Celebrate Halloween with parents at their home

Halloween can make old people living alone, and those who don’t like to go out, apprehensive about the tricks and answering the doorbell. Can an adult child arrange to be at his or her  parents’ home during the trick or treat hours? I know my parents felt stress when the doorbell rang late at night. Older age=feelings of vulnerability…..but we can lessen that on Halloween, making it possible for the old folks to enjoy the kids and costumes while we are at their home (and have possibly provided the treats). And if few children ring the bell, you have been with your parent(s) and that in itself is a gift (as we know).

Take old/older people out for a ride to view the decorations

I wrote 2 posts on short drives with elders– on Halloween in suburbia–viewing the home decorations and lawn displays. A dry run to preview the most festive streets and homes is almost a must.  Seeing the lit displays at night is more dramatic.

Arrange for young children in costume to visit
relatives and friends in care facilities

My brother is probably the oldest father in the PTA. Until last year he loved joining his daughter as she and her friends went trick-or-treating in costume. When she told him last Halloween that she was going to a party with her girlfriends, he said he felt bad not being part of these middle schoolers’ experience any more. Can we take our children, in costume, to brighten up the lives of people where “trick or treat” no longer happens?

Take a pumpkin to the care facility

An option to the quick decorated pumpkin as a gift for someone–whether living in a care facility or not–is the hollowed-out pumpkin. Fill small jar with water and use as a vase inside empty pumpkin. Just add some chrysanthemums. They’ll think you came from the florist. And it will brighten up any room.

Holidays provide opportunities we can take advantage of– to jump-start aging parents and add some joy to their lives.

Related: Gifting Easily-decorated Halloween Pumpkins With Flowers and Whimsey Lifts Spirits of Aging Parents and Care-Center Elders 

                Halloween Treats (no tricks) for Aging Parents, Grandparents–Us Too! Includes going for rides to see displays and decorations–city and suburban
Halloween Front Yard

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from respected universities–plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Older Traveler, Limited Mobility, Abroad Aboard a Barge at 79–What We Learn

Barge Canal Burgundy

79-year-old barge traveler gains strength and confidence shortly after broken-hip surgery

A gray-haired woman, bent over her walker, was moving somewhat awkwardly towards our group and the private bus that was taking us to the Gare de Lyon in Paris. We would then board the TJV for a barge trip in Burgundy.  Although 99-year-old, Sr. Advisor R has said “DON’T ASSUME” countless times, I did assume this woman wasn’t traveling on our barge. WRONG!

Initially I didn’t know her age, nor that she was accompanied by a sister–11 years younger. While I do know that affect influences our first impression of people and while I’ve been trained as a counselor to be objective and nonjudgmental, barge travel isn’t luxury liner travel. It involves a degree of mobility–at minimum navigating steps to get to the bedrooms and bathrooms below deck, and often walking ladder-like steps with railings and a gangplank to get from the barge to often  unmanicured terrain–all this before reaching the point of interest.

In  six days I watched a 79-year-old, recovering from surgery and physical therapy for a cracked femur–with walker, cane and resolve–gain confidence, strength and joie de vivre as the barge gently and steadily navigated the canals. She said she’d wanted to do this trip for years but couldn’t find anyone to go with her. With the “go-ahead” from her doctor, she was going. I silently wondered how desperate–or passionate–she was to make the trip at this precise time in her life.

The barge “boss” as she called herself (she was our leader, not the barge captain) was sensitive to the woman’s needs–as was the sister. Initially this woman’s mobility was “ify.” Challenges: keeping pace with the group, transitioning from land to the barge’s gangplank and vice versa, not to mention going down the stairs to the bedrooms or hiking At the Chateauwith walker up a long drive to visit a chateau on day 2 of the trip (photo left). And then there was the weather: light rain at times meant a wet barge deck…slippery.

What evolved over the week was testimony to “don’t assume” and the limitations we may inadvertently, subconsciously, unconsciously place on older people. As our small group (9  individuals and couples who didn’t know each other previously) coalesced and indeed  became a group, and as the physical part of the trip became routine, this woman gained strength, endurance and confidence. Indeed she and I discussed this and I watched it, so I know it’s true.

She began to shed her walker for a cane on days 3 and 4, except when long walks were scheduled. And at that point she used only the hand rail to navigate the carpeted stairs to the bedrooms. (Doing that maneuver with cane in hand was difficult and time-consuming.) And in the crowded, busy Paris train station on day 6 at the end of our trip, a wheelchair was a graciously accepted alternative as she didn’t want to hold up the group.

She had progressed from a person concerned with her challenges to someone who didn’t want to inconvenience the group and joined in all the planned activities. She mentioned that her physical therapy prescription had run its course at the rehab center and she had requested more, but insurance wouldn’t cover it. That said, she concluded the physical exercise this trip necessitated, was no doubt the best physical therapy she could get.

This senior citizen was not a super-remarkable older person. She was a never-married, independent, retired college professor who lived alone with her dog. She wanted to do this trip. With no one to stop her or convince her otherwise, and a sister who agreed to go with her, the result speaks for itself.

Which brings us back to “Don’t Assume.” And reminds us to ask ourselves: Are we over protective?  Are our assumptions about older people’s abilities/capabilities and/or what’s good for them unnecessarily limiting? Do we make decisions based on what’s easier for us, makes us feel easier, or what’s best for them?

Barge Canal-Burgundy

Barge Canal from barge’s window

We do have our work cut out for us, don’t we?