If your parent is living with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, you might think that travel is off the table. In fact, not only can people who have dementia travel, but trips can also help them stay stimulated and reconnect them with loved ones in distant locations.
Nonetheless, traveling with a parent who has dementia does create some unique risks and challenges. By following these tips, you can prepare for those challenges and make sure you both have a safe, happy and enjoyable trip:
Step 1: Assess their Ability to Travel
Whether and how your parent can travel depends on the specific form of dementia they have, as well as the severity of the condition. If they are still in the early stages of dementia and are responding well to memory care, they’ll likely still be able to travel to a wide range of locations.
But if they have a more severe version of dementia, their ability to travel is limited. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t travel at all, but it might mean you should stick to shorter trips and destinations they’re familiar with. Consult with your parent’s doctor and other care providers before taking them on a trip, and make sure they’re on board with your plan.
And don’t forget to talk to your parent themselves and ask if they want to go. If they’re eager to take the trip, that’s a good sign, and you should find a way to make it happen. But if they don’t want to go, or even seem hesitant to do so, don’t pressure them to. Above all, your goal should be to keep your parent happy, no matter what that takes.
Step 2: Keep it Short & Simple
If you and your parent have decided that you do want to go on a trip and can do so safely, the next step is to plan it out. The shorter and simpler the trip is, the less likely your parent is to feel confused, scared, or uncomfortable along the way. You should thus minimize disruptions and travel time by:
- Planning a nonstop flight: When flying, look for a nonstop flight. Connecting flights tend to create problems, both because they make the trip more complicated and because they raise the risk that you’ll be delayed or miss a plane.
- Setting schedules strategically: There’s no way to avoid delays entirely, but you can make them less likely by traveling at strategic times. For example, when flying into the Northeastern U.S., delays are more likely if your flight takes off in the evening than if it’s in the morning. So if possible, book a morning flight.
- Traveling during daylight: People with dementia often experience sundowner’s syndrome, or a marked increase in anxiety, confusion and aggression after the sun sets. So whenever possible, travel during the daytime, and start your trip early enough that it will still be light out even if your flight or car is delayed.
In general, it should be possible to take these steps if you’re willing to pay a little extra, consider multiple routes and look for flights from multiple airlines. The shorter and simpler you keep the trip, the easier it will be on your parent.
Step 3: Stock Up
Before heading out on your trip, stock up on everything your parent will need on the way, including:
- Medications and equipment: Bring any essential medications and equipment in large enough quantities to get your parent through the trip. Even if you’ll be able to get more of them at your destination, you should still bring them with you in case you get delayed somewhere. If you’re flying, make sure to contact airport security ahead of time and see if you have to make any special arrangements to get these items on the plane.
- Familiar items: People with dementia often have trouble coping with being in a different environment. You can make it easier for them by bringing clothes blankets, books, and other items that they will recognize. This is particularly important if you are flying, as it will help them feel less overwhelmed by the bustle and confusion of the airport.
- Identification aids: Have your parent wear a bracelet with their name and your contact information on it. This way, if they do get lost, it will be easier for those who find them to get in contact with you before long.
Step 4: Make Traveling Cards
Print or hand-write an index card or business card-sized note for those you might encounter about how they could be more helpful if they only knew that your loved one was living with Alzheimer’s or other form of cognitive loss.
A brief printed explanation can save you from talking about the behaviors your traveling companion may be displaying. Once others are clued in, it can make a difficult situation manageable with help from those around you, such as a server, flight attendant or seat companion. Click here for ideas about what to include on the card.
For many more tips on traveling with a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia, check out this list from the Alzheimer’s Association. And for more advice on caring for a parent with dementia, download our free Dementia Guide or contact us for more information on how to keep your parent safe and happy throughout all of life’s journeys.