Home for the Holidays: Tips for Traveling with a Loved One with Dementia

Happy senior couple - traveling with a loved one who has dementia

Every holiday season Ray and his wife Camille fly to Michigan to spend time with their daughter and her family. They’ve been doing it for the past decade and have never missed a year. But things are different now. Ray has dementia and Camille is worried that the trip may be too much for him — and also for her.

Because Ray is still in the early stages of dementia and is really looking forward to the trip, Camille has decided to do whatever she can to make it work. Her first step was to contact the Alzheimer’s Association for some travel advice. She learned that planning ahead is critical. 

Planning ahead

  • Have a bag of essentials with you at all times that includes medications, travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.
  • Pack necessary medications, up-to-date medical information, a list of emergency contacts and photocopies of important legal documents.
  • Create an itinerary that includes details about each destination. Give copies to emergency contacts at home. Keep a copy of your itinerary with you at all times.
  • If you will be staying in a hotel, inform the staff ahead of time of your specific needs so they can be prepared to assist you.
  • Travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia.

When does it make more sense to stay home?

Traveling is usually a lot easier when the person is in the earlier stages of dementia. Here are some useful tips to help you decide if staying at home makes more sense.

Does the person

  • become anxious or agitated in new environments or around new people?
  • constantly ask to go home even during short visits or trips?
  • act verbally or physically abusive?
  • have a problem with continence?
  • wander?
  • have great difficulty walking or have a risk of falling?
  • need help with things like dressing, going to the bathroom, bathing, eating?
  • have other serious medical issues and/or need a physician’s ok to travel?

Travel tips

Ray and Camille will travel by air. Their flights, coming and going, are scheduled for days that shouldn’t be too busy and fortunately, they were able to get direct flights both ways.

Here are some other travel tips:

  • If the trip is a go and it’s going to be a long ride in the car, consider taking some short trips ahead of time to troubleshoot potential problems.
  • Honor the person’s usual schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Routine is critical, so if it is disrupted, expect there to be some agitation or increased confusion.
  • Bring along familiar items, especially things that are soothing for the person: soft comfort items, special activities, books, pictures or favorite scented lotions. Be sure clothing is comfortable.
  • Always allow for extra time.
  • People with dementia often have better times of the day; try to schedule activities (driving, for instance) during those better times when the person is rested, fed and comfortable.
  • Don’t try to pack too much into one day. It may make more sense to break up a long drive with an overnight stay along the way. Rest can be critical (for both of you).
  • Make sure the person is carrying or wearing some form of identification that includes your cell phone number. Kate Fallon, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Ageless Journeys, says a Safe Return bracelet is a great option.
  • Take a photograph of your loved one so you’ll know what clothes he/she is wearing … just in case. In fact, take pictures along the way so you can document your trip and enjoy looking at them later.
  • Carry all important documents yourself — tickets, passports, etc.
  • In the airport, use family or handicapped restrooms if you’re concerned about your person using it alone and be cautious about letting him/her wait outside when you’re using the restroom.
  • On the plane, try to get a seat close to the restroom.
  • If you have special needs, let the airline know. Consider letting the flight attendants know you are traveling with someone who has dementia.
  • Carry as few bags as possible or have them checked straight through.
  • Breathe
  • Smile even if you don’t feel like it. It’s amazing how quickly a smile can turn things around.

You’ve reached your destination

Traveling is usually stressful for everybody, but especially when you’re with someone who has dementia. No matter what stage your loved one is in, it’s important to plan ahead and take the necessary precautions.

Hopefully, it will be an uneventful, enjoyable trip — one that continues after you arrive at your destination. “Do all you can to make strange places feel familiar,” says Kate. “And don’t despair if confusion increases. Traveling is tiring and fatigue challenges all of us. Expect a bit of a set back while on the road and for a few days afterwards. It may not happen, but if you are prepared it won’t take as much of a toll on you. Remember, too, that emotional memory lingers even after factual memory declines. If you are open to having fun with your person with dementia and do what you can to make the trip work for them, they will have fun too. The good news is that even if they don’t recall the events clearly, they will hold on to the positive experience in their hearts.”

Need some help?

Could you use an extra hand getting your loved one packed and ready for a holiday visit? Advantage Home Care can help. If you’ve decided that traveling with him/her is not a good idea, we also provide respite care so you can still go. Send us an email or give us a call at (207) 699-2570 or toll free: 1-888-846-1410.

Do you have any travel tips to share? We love hearing from you!

Our Aging in Place blog is written by Diane Atwood, who also writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.

Categories: Alzheimer's/Dementia and Blog.

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