The weather is warming up, which means summer vacation will be here before we know it. Whether you plan on hitting the road or flying the friendly skies, traveling with a parent or spouse who has Alzheimer’s or dementia can pose unique challenges. That doesn’t mean your traveling days are over, though. Taking trips can be a healthy way for your loved one to stay engaged and connected with the world around them.
Still, there are steps you can take to make traveling with Alzheimer's or dementia a positive and productive experience for all—wherever your destination.
Take An Optimistic Yet Realistic Approach
Traveling with a parent or spouse who has Alzheimer’s disease has inherent limitations. Namely, the degree to which your loved one can travel depends on the type of dementia they have as well as its severity.
For example, if your parent or spouse is in an early stage of cognitive decline, you will have more options than if they were in a more advanced state of their illness. Just as memory care isn’t one-size-fits-all, neither is traveling with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Consult your loved one’s doctor or other care providers to get their input, too.
Besides assessing your loved one’s physical and mental state, it also helps to include them in the decision making process. Ask your parent or spouse if they want to take a summer vacation and whether they have any questions or concerns about the trip.
If your potential travel companion doesn’t want to go or seems unsure, don’t pressure them. Your goal is to keep your parent or spouse safe and happy, and empathetic approach can help you do just that.
Remember Short & Simple Equals Success
Once you’ve determined that your loved one is fit to travel and eager to do so, it’s time to start planning. Remember: shorter, simpler trips mean fewer opportunities for confusion and discomfort.
If you plan on flying, try to book a direct flight. Non-stop trips eliminate complicated connections as well as reduce the risk of delayed and missed flights. Also, travel at strategic times. Flying in the morning, for example, may help you avoid delays, which tend to occur later in the day. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia may experience sundowner’s syndrome, a neurological phenomenon associated with increased confusion and restlessness after the sun sets. So, if possible, limit travel to daylight hours.
While following these tips may cost more, it’s worth the peace of mind knowing the trip will be easier on both you and your loved one.
Prepare Now for Less Stress Later
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Before embarking on your next adventure, stock up on essential medications and equipment. Get enough supplies to last your parent or spouse through the duration of the trip. Don’t rely on the prospect of restocking at your destination as delays inevitably occur. Also, keep in mind that airport security may require special arrangements when taking these items on the plane, so contact the appropriate parties beforehand.
People with Alzheimer’s or dementia often find comfort in familiar items. Therefore, you may also want to bring a favorite blanket, book or sweater to help them cope with unfamiliar surroundings. Comfort items are particularly useful when flying due to the hustle and bustle of airports and airplanes.
Whether or not your aging loved one is prone to wandering, getting them an identification bracelet with your contact information on it will make it easier to reunite if you do get separated.
Likewise, prepare traveling cards. These printed or handwritten notes provide critical information about your situation as well as your loved one’s unique needs. You can give these cards to servers, flight attendants or anyone else you might encounter on your travels. Then, they have the awareness and knowledge needed to ameliorate a difficult situation, should one arise. Learn how to make your own traveling cards here.
Just because a family member is living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy time together away from home. Follow these strategies to minimize anxiety and maximize enjoyment on your next getaway.