Common Travel Challenges for People with Parkinson’s

Traveling brings up a host of challenges for anyone, but for people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), traveling can be extra tricky as the changes to motor functioning as well as symptoms like pain, trouble sleeping, and cognitive changes make things more difficult. As you plan for travel, it can be helpful to understand common travel challenges that people with PD face.

Extra time to get settled

PD causes a slowness of movement, and it can also make starting movement difficult and result in episodes of freezing. Many modes of transportation, including airlines, trains, and buses, depend on a strict schedule, and people with PD need extra time to get to their departure point and settled in their seat.1

Medication timing

Medications for PD are crucial to take on their recommended schedule to reduce “off times” when the medication wears off and symptoms are prominent. Traveling can interrupt your normal schedule, and timing of medication can be even trickier when changing time zones. When you’re traveling with PD, you also need to ensure you have enough medication to cover your whole trip, plus extra in case of delays. Pill dispensers can help, and keeping a list of all your prescriptions and the dosing schedule is important.1,2

Misunderstanding of others

Not everyone is familiar with the symptoms of PD. Symptoms like slurred speech, unsteady gait, and tremor can be misunderstood as drunkenness. When traveling, you may encounter people, including employees of airlines, trains, or buses, who make assumptions about your condition. While it is not necessary to correct them or reveal that you have Parkinson’s, you do deserve to be treated with respect. Often, simply explaining that you have a chronic condition that requires special needs is enough.3

Asking for help

Many of us find it hard to ask for help, preferring to handle things ourselves. We may have a belief that asking for help is admitting weakness or failure. However, as humans, we are meant to be in community, and it can be helpful to remember that we all need help sometimes. Many employees of travel companies are willing and able to help when they understand someone has special needs, like Parkinson’s. Asking for help, including wheelchair assistance or extra time for boarding, can make traveling through an airport or train terminal easier for someone with PD.

Cognitive difficulties

PD can cause changes to the way a person thinks or processes information. These cognitive difficulties can cause problems with forgetfulness, solving problems, making decisions, or disorientation. For those people with PD who experience cognitive difficulties, it can be helpful to have a travel companion to help you navigate and handle any complexities that arise.4

Plan ahead

Planning ahead is always important for any traveler, and with PD, the planning is essential. Before your next trip, consider these common challenges as well as your particular unique needs and try to anticipate and plan for possible setbacks. Proper planning can help you prepare for every aspect of your travel, as well as plan for possible contingencies, and help you enjoy your trip.

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