As the holiday season approaches, our thoughts often turn to visiting friends and family. Whether it’s a short trip across town or a cross-country trip by plane, visiting loved ones makes the holidays merry and bright. But if you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia or another form of memory loss, travel requires more than a little preparation, patience and determination.
“Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can still enjoy and benefit from travel and visits with loved ones,” says Sue Sunderland, Executive Director of The Bridges at Warwick, a supportive personal care community in Jamison, PA. “However, it does require planning to make sure that you and your loved one have a safe, enjoyable experience.”
Before You Go: Planning Your Trip
What type of visit will you be making? Are you going a short distance? Will it be a one day or multi-day trip? How will you be traveling? No matter how big or small your holiday journey will be, it’s important to think about the potential issues for a traveler with dementia and plan for how to address them. If your loved one is still in the early stages of dementia, travel may not be very different than before. However, as the disease progresses, travel may become more difficult and may end up being too overwhelming for the person – or for you, the caregiver.
Here are just some of the questions that you’ll need to address before heading off for the holidays:
- How long will the trip be? Is this a one-day trip across town, an extended weekend or longer? If it’s longer than a day trip, how will your loved one react with this change in their daily routine?
- Where will you be staying if it’s a multi-day trip? Staying with friends and family in their home is the most affordable option, and during the holidays many people like having the closeness of everyone under one roof. Will others in the home be able or willing to assist you with the care your loved one’s needs, or will it be too stressful? Alternately, staying in a hotel gives you more flexibility and privacy, but it’s more expensive and could be confusing for your loved one.
- How will you travel there? Will you be traveling by car or plane? If possible, you should choose the option that provides the most familiarity and comfort for your loved one. However, if your family lives across the country, you may be required to take a plane. How will your loved one react to that, and what can you do to prepare?
- What health care options are nearby? If your loved one has a health issue or an accident, it’s important to know where the nearest medical facility is and if they accept your insurance.
- What assistance is available? Would hiring a health aid be worth it?
As you start planning what to take on your trip, you’ll need to do a little research as well. If you’re traveling a short distance, you may require very little in the way of documentation. However, if you’re going somewhere further, here are some important documents you should have on hand in the event of an emergency or issue:
- Your loved one’s doctor’s names and information
- Contact information for the area’s local police and fire departments and hospitals
- A list of drug or food allergies
- A list of current medications and dosages
- Emergency contact information
- Copies of living will, power of attorney and other important legal documents
- Insurance information (policy number, member name)
During the Trip: Tips for Success
- Carry a bag of essentials with you that includes a change of clothes, medications, snacks, water and activities.
- If you’re taking a multi-day trip with several stops, create an itinerary and leave it with your emergency contacts so they know how to reach you.
- If you’re staying in a hotel, contact them beforehand to let them know about your or your loved one’s specific needs.
- Try to travel during a time of day that is best for your loved one.
- Be open about your loved one’s needs, especially if you’re interacting with staff members. That will allow them to help assess the situation and provide you the best help possible.
- Stay calm and be flexible. Travel can be stressful enough on its own. Have plenty of time planned into your travel in order to avoid last-minute rushing.
If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll need to make some extra considerations. Airports can be overwhelming, distracting and anxiety-inducing for individuals with dementia. You may need to do a little extra work in order to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.
- Make sure your connecting flights have enough time in-between so you don’t have to rush from one gate to another.
- Consider using airport escort services to shuttle you to and from different locations.
- Request a wheelchair for your loved one even if walking is not an issue, as it can make getting from place to place that much easier. Be sure to request in advance, as most airlines need at least 48 hours notice.
- Contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at least 72 hours prior to travel for information about what to expect during the security screening. When you’re at the airport, remind your loved one about the steps involved, and consider telling security that your loved one has dementia so they can be aware of the situation.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from airport staff and in-flight crew – they’re there to help.
- Look for family bathrooms if your loved one needs assistance using the toilet. This will provide you the space you need, and allow you to stay with your loved one at all times.
- Do not leave your loved one alone at any point.
The holidays can be stressful, especially when it comes to travel. However, with preparation and planning, you can help your loved one with dementia experience all the joys the season has to offer.
For more information about traveling with someone who has dementia, or if you’d like more information about our senior living community, contact our staff at The Bridges at Warwick.
Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.
You’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where everyday is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.
Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program offers specialized programming our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our secure, comprehensive memory care residence.
In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.