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For adults, motion sickness can take away fun of many rides

Lauri Robinson and her daughter Molly, 9, ride the Sizzler at Riverfront Park recently. Many adults find it hard to go on amusement park rides as they age, while most children can ride them for hours.  (Colin Mulvany)
Lauri Robinson and her daughter Molly, 9, ride the Sizzler at Riverfront Park recently. Many adults find it hard to go on amusement park rides as they age, while most children can ride them for hours. (Colin Mulvany)

The Tilt-A-Whirl at Riverfront Park started out mellow, just a gentle spin. No problem.

Then, the spinning began in earnest. Screaming followed. Not from the mouths of my fellow riders – Reagan, 4, and Abby, 6 – but from me.

Foiled again. Last summer, I rode the park’s innocent-looking Berry Go Round and felt queasy for hours afterward.

Every amusement-ride season I try once again to recapture the thrills remembered from the Jack Rabbit and Rock-O-Plane rides at the now-defunct Natatorium Park on Spokane’s North Side.

As a child, I rode them for hours. Now, it’s once around in the Berry Go Round, and I’m done.

I’m not alone.

“The adults ride some of the bigger rides, and one time is enough for them. Whereas the kids, they’ll go on the rides over and over and over,” said Juston Henry, operations manager for Silverwood Theme Park in North Idaho.

“You hear the older crowd say, ‘I’m never riding that again’ or ‘I’m out of sync now.’”

The culprit: motion sickness. It happens when the brain’s equilibrium sentinel – the inner ear – cannot make sense of the motion it’s experiencing and so gets the rest of the body involved in a rebellion.

The result? Nausea, dizziness, clamminess, vomiting and sometimes, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it, “a sense of impending doom.”

Motion sickness hits people of all ages, but children do not have as many of the behaviors, medical conditions and medications that put adults at greater risk for experiencing nausea on amusement rides.

In an e-mail, Group Health’s Dr. Alisa Hideg said: “You can be more prone to motion sickness when you have had an illness that disturbs the inner ear (colds, sinus infections), when you are dehydrated, when you are on certain medications (hormones, blood pressure), when you have eaten too much or too little, when you are very tired, from drinking alcohol or when you have a tendency for migraine headaches.”

Debby Dodson, assistant manager at Riverfront Park (where the pavilion rides opened full-time for the summer this week), grew up in Canada and loved amusement rides.

She’s now 43 and a year ago, with her nieces and nephews, she rode “The Spider” (sometimes called “The Octopus” at other parks). This ride shoots up and down in dramatic arcs while the “cab” spins wildly.

“I was ready to get off after the first or second spin,” Dodson said.

During my recent Tilt-A-Whirl ride with Abby and Reagan, I noticed the ride operator kept checking my facial expression. (My initial scream faded into a grimace). He was looking for signs of distress.

“If they see somebody in a state of panic, or someone gets sick, or if one of the kids is crying hysterically, they stop the rides right away,” Dodson explained.

Silverwood’s ride operators are similarly trained to watch the faces of riders, as well as listen for verbal clues.

Henry said that’s where you see the differences between adults and children.

Children often scream when frightened on a ride or when about to get sick. They yell “Help” or “Stop!” But adults often try to hide both panic and motion sickness.

“They get white,” Henry said. “They have the ‘I saw a ghost’ look.”

He encourages adults to be more assertive on rides when they feel nauseated. Yell. Motion with your hands.

(But be warned: Once you’re on a roller coaster, you’re committed for the whole ride.)

People of all ages get sicker on hot days, Henry pointed out. Adults – and kids – can lower the risk of motion sickness by drinking lots of water and staying away from fat and sugary foods before the rides.

My physical defeat on the Berry Go Round and Tilt-A-Whirl felt like a psychological defeat, too. As a child, I vowed never to grow into a stand-on-the-sidelines adult.

And yet there I was, screaming and grimacing on the Tilt-A-Whirl, sitting with two little girls who do a dozen spinny rides in a row with no consequences.

Nancy DiGiammarco, director of marketing and sales for Silverwood, offered some hope.

She loved amusement rides as a child. About six years ago, however, she developed Meniere’s, a disorder of the inner ear.

“I would be sitting in a chair and all of a sudden, I was down on the ground,” she explained. “If I tried to raise my hand even an inch off the floor, I was so dizzy I would become completely nauseated.”

A simple daily medication controls the disorder, but Meniere’s left her with a propensity for motion sickness.

DiGiammarco needs to ride Silverwood’s attractions to explain them to the media and other visitors. She has godchildren she likes to entertain at the park. So she looked for a remedy.

She found one. She takes a Dramamine pill one hour before she rides.

That, and a positive attitude, work for her.

“I come from a generation where we are planning never to get old,” said the 62-year-old DiGiammarco.

“And part of staying young is experiencing things again with children.”

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