Many people – including lots of older adults – will cruise into summer with a vacation at sea. Although exciting, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says the elderly and their family members should plan in advance for their cruise trips.

“Cruises can provide a wonderful vacation experience for seniors, but it is important that they are aware of their health and safety,” said Dr. Angela Catic, assistant professor in the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor.

Planning your cruise

When planning their cruise, elder adults should consider booking a room close to an area of the ship that they anticipate using most, such as the dining room or pool area, to minimize the amount they need to walk. Many ships also offer accessible staterooms with wider doors, walk-in showers, grab bars and other accommodations. If needed, elders should request these accommodations when booking.

“If elders have specific needs, they should discuss these with cruise staff prior to booking to ensure they can be accommodated. Elders traveling with family members or a companion may wish to request adjoining staterooms with a connecting door,” she added.

Cruise ships can be very large, and if elders use an assistive device such as a cane or walker for long distances, they should bring it on the ship. Some older adults may even want to consider a lightweight travel wheelchair to use for longer distances.

It’s also important to be prepared for a variety of indoor and outdoor climates. Catic suggests packing these items for protection: 

  • Sunscreen
  • Protective lip balm
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sweaters or wraps to keep warm
  • Comfortable, non-slip shoes to reduce their risk of falling
  • An extra weeks worth of medication in carry-on luggage

She also said that older adults should speak with their medical provider about treatment for possible motion sickness prior to embarking on a cruise.

Setting sail

Cruise ships offer guests a variety of excursions to choose from when they dock at their travel destination. When selecting an excursion, elders should select ones that they feel fit their physical abilities. If the cruise is lengthy in duration, elder adults may wish to consider forgoing excursions for one day to rest and take advantage of the ship amenities. This can help to prevent them from becoming overly tired.

For many people, the large variety of food is part of the fun of cruising. However, many people indulge in excess food and alcohol while on cruises. Elders should also be mindful that alcohol is more potent as we age. “They should be mindful of how excess food and alcohol can interact with their medications and chronic health issues and exercise moderation. If elders have special dietary needs, they should inform the cruise line of these at the time they book their cruise,” Catic said.

Back on land

Some individuals may feel dizzy or feel an ongoing rocking sensation after they return to land following a cruise. This may be accompanied by fatigue, unsteadiness, nausea and ringing in the ears. If impacted, elders should seek medical attention so that other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out and prescription treatment options considered. 

Once elder adults return from a cruise, they should take time to rest up from their adventure. “It is important for them to resume a healthful diet, get plenty of sleep and resume any routine exercise program,” she said.