Traveling with a loved one suffering from dementia can be rewarding and enjoyable, both for the loved one and the caregiver. This type of travel, however, requires careful planning, patience and flexibility.
Is a Trip Doable?
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, patients often are quite capable of traveling and negotiating some of the obstacles. Simply writing directions, reminders and making sure there is a paper trail may be enough to ensure a successful trip. In the latter stages of the disease, unfamiliar surroundings and noise associated with transportation hubs could cause agitation or distress. Unfamiliar places such as hotel rooms, tourist sites and changing scenery might be overwhelming. Before planning a trip, evaluate why the trip is being taken. Is it for pleasure, business or an annual family reunion? Then, decide if it is doable. One way to make that determination is to do a shorter trial run of the excursion using the same mode of transport that the longer trip will involve. For example, before you commit to that marlin fishing extravaganza in the Keys, take your loved one to a local lake to see how they react to the water and to being on a boat.
If your loved one’s disorientation or confusion is constant while being away from home, it might be a good idea to avoid travel. Look for signs of paranoia, aggression or wandering as these actions may be dangerous while in transit. Don’t travel with a patient who has issues with falling or other medical conditions that are difficult to manage. Nobody wants to cap an outing with a visit to the emergency room.
There are instances when a trip or relocation is unavoidable. Just as there are professionals equipped to look after dementia patients who live far from their family, there are medical and long-distance transport services that can shepherd your loved one from point A to point B in safety. Many have nurses on staff and even allow a family member or pet to come along to provide comfort.
In order to make a trip as smooth as possible for a dementia sufferer, the accompanying caregiver needs to prepare. Be honest about what you can and can’t handle in terms of your loved one’s reaction to stress or any curveballs travel can throw your way. Make sure you are well-rested, patient and flexible. Keep any trip short (preferably less than four hours), simple and as familiar as possible.
What to Take
When making a journey, it’s a good idea to write up an itinerary, not only for your reference but to leave behind with someone who can help if things go awry. List flight numbers, hotel details and estimated travel time. Have your loved one wear an identification bracelet and label their clothing as well.
Along with medicines and basics like snacks and water, take along a game (Quirkle, Melissa & Doug’s Flip to Win) or puzzle book your loved one enjoys. This will help pass the time on layovers and, in many cases, helps improve memory skills. Bring along photos of pets, friends and family to provide comfort.
As a backstop, consider making copies of important papers such as insurance, living will and power of attorney, so they are at hand in an emergency. Carry a current photograph of your loved one should it be needed by law enforcement.
If the trip is short, try traveling during your loved one’s highest functioning time of day. For longer journeys, it pays to do some prep work. Call hotels ahead of time and alert them to any special requirements. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination and avoid crowds. Research what accommodations and services are available. If in a hotel room, remove hazards and secure the room door to prevent your loved one from wandering. Should he or she wander off, there are services that can track them and alert police and medical personnel so they can be returned safely.
If your trip involves an airline, avoid tight connections that could be stressful. Since many Alzheimer’s patients react negatively to touch, it’s a good idea to call ahead to alert TSA screeners about your circumstance. This will allow them to treat your loved one sensitively during the security screening. Most airlines have escort services between gates but may require a few hours’ notice. A wheelchair will help facilitate movement through crowds.
Fun Closer to Home
There may come a time when a journey away from home is simply not feasible for a dementia sufferer. That doesn’t mean that he or she has to be isolated or bored. Connecting people to others in their vicinity for activities and friendship is a way for people to get the benefits of companionship without the needless stress of facing a new environment.