Are you planning a trip with someone who has dementia? Many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can continue to travel with appropriate planning and attention to safety and comfort.
Before you embark on your trip, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of traveling with someone who has dementia. In addition, you should allow plenty of time to assess the potential difficulties and make arrangements accordingly.
Traveling, whether by car or plane, can be stressful for anyone, regardless of health considerations. For individuals with dementia, leaving their usual surroundings and lacking access to familiar people, routines, belongings and food can result in an overwhelming experience. The unpredictability inherent in travel also can mean that, despite your preparations, your family member with dementia can end up tired or uncomfortable.
What steps can you take to help ensure the best possible experience for you and your travel companion with dementia? There are many, but the first starts with weighing the pros and cons of a trip.
Weigh the Pros and Cons of Your Trip
Before you begin making your travel preparations, think about whether the trip is necessary and what difficulties it might present for you and your family member. The first consideration is your relative’s overall health. How advanced is the dementia, and will your relative enjoy going on a trip?
As dementia progresses, travel often becomes more difficult, and the challenges simply may not be worth the advantages of the trip.
If you believe your family member can travel safely and will enjoy the trip, consider the best way to travel. What travel mode will cause the least anxiety? Depending on your destination and itinerary, going by plane may be faster than going by car. However, if your relative is not accustomed to flying, traveling by car may be preferable.
Bring Along the Proper Documents
Whether you decide to go by plane or by car, you’ll need important travel documentation on hand for your relative with dementia. Even if you’re carrying all your relative’s medications with you, it’s important to have a comprehensive list of all medications, supplements and dosages that your relative takes, along with descriptions of any food and drug allergies.
In addition, take a list of all doctors’ names and contact information. Should your family member experience a medical emergency during the trip, you want to have all important information readily available rather than having to search for it.
Make a list of emergency contact information for areas you’ll be traveling through, as well as for your destination. Don’t forget to include numbers of fire departments, police, hospitals and poison control centers. If you’ll be on the road for a while, you will want to know throughout your trip how to contact emergency services. Be sure to take a list of contact information for friends and family members to be reached in case of emergency.
Plan for Your Relative’s Comfort
Consider your family member’s regular routine — including what he or she is accustomed to eating, how much rest is typical and what activities generally occur at different times of day. Formulate a plan for keeping your schedule as normal as possible for your family member. Of course, your ability to keep to a typical schedule may vary significantly depending on your mode of travel and other factors. In addition, travel delays may mean events that are beyond your control.
Try to keep each day’s travel time to just a few hours, if possible, to minimize stress. In addition, consider booking a hotel room rather than staying with relatives — especially if your relatives are not familiar with the special needs associated with dementia. If you do stay in a hotel, call ahead to ask for any special accommodations you’ll need.
If you’ll be attending a specific event at your destination, such as a wedding, family reunion or graduation, be sure to allow extra travel time. Arriving shortly before an important event can add to stress levels unnecessarily for both you and your relative, and remember that you are more likely to encounter delays than when you travel alone.
Keep Safety Top of Mind
Think about what steps you will take to ensure your relative’s safety during every leg of your journey. If you are traveling alone with a family member with dementia and you need to visit the restroom, for example, will your relative be safe spending a few minutes apart from you? If your relative is prone to wandering, how will you ensure his or her safety? Consider having your family member wear an identification bracelet or pendant if he or she has memory problems or may wander. In addition, you may wish to write your family member’s name and your phone number on an item of their clothing.
Depending on the severity of dementia and any other health concerns for your relative, consider taking along another friend or family member who can assist with care duties during the trip and once you arrive at your destination.
Make sure you have essential items with you at all times — in carry-on luggage when traveling by air and in easily accessible locations if traveling by car. Include all needed medications along with travel documents, snacks, a change of clothing, basic toiletries and hygiene items, and plenty of water. Have a plan in mind for keeping your relative safe and calm should the unexpected occur, including flight delays or a vehicle breakdown.
Pack More Than You Believe You Will Need
Packing light has its advantages, but it’s important to have any items on hand that your travel companion with dementia may need during the trip. Well in advance of your departure date, start a list of all the items you’ll need to pack. As you go through a normal day with your family member, take note of all the different items used — including foods, beverages, medications and supplements, a favorite blanket and pillow, toiletries and clothing.
If your relative becomes startled at loud noises or busy locations, consider packing some noise-canceling headphones that he or she can use to listen to comforting music. In addition, take along as many well-loved items as possible — including pajamas or a scented candle that your relative enjoys — to bring familiarity to your new, temporary environment once you arrive at your destination.
For any items that you pack, plan to take extras. An individual with dementia is more likely to soil clothing or to need additional medications, for example.
Take Special Precautions for Air Travel
Air travel involves a multitude of factors out of travelers’ control. From delayed flights to crowded airport conditions to lack of suitable food, traveling by air can strain the patience of just about anyone.
Traveling with an individual with dementia adds extra challenges that can result in significant stress when combined with the usual rigors of air travel. If you must travel by air with your companion with dementia, take time to plan your trip as much as possible to control the factors that you can and limit the possibility of frustrating problems.
Consider planning your trip to include direct flights and to limit or eliminate layovers, which often involve little time to make connections and significantly increase the possibility of missed or canceled flights. Alert the airline to your family member’s health challenges in advance, and ask about the possibility of pre-boarding. By boarding ahead of other passengers, you give yourself and your relative more time to get settled and to adjust to the unfamiliar environment before conditions become too crowded.
Navigating security checkpoints and finding what you need within the airport also can pose challenges. Before you leave, consider reviewing the websites for the airports you’ll be using to find the location of your boarding gate along with restrooms and restaurants that may provide suitable food. Check the airport website for an accessibility guide with useful information for individuals with medical challenges. A variety of travel apps can also provide detailed information about airports, including maps and available services.
To minimize delays and hassles as you check in and go through security, make sure you follow all regulations regarding your luggage. Ensure that your bags are not over the weight limits for either checked or carry-on luggage.
Alert security personnel as you approach checkpoints if your relative is not able to follow verbal commands or may become confused. Consider taking along a note from your doctor explaining any cognitive challenges and the need for you to be present at all times to assist your travel companion.
In addition, be sure to notify airline gate personnel of your relative’s health status and special needs, and speak to the flight crew as you’re boarding the plane. Many flight crew members have experience working with passengers with dementia, and they may be able to assist you in heading off anxiety or any needlessly stressful situations for your family member.
Most importantly if you’re traveling by air, arrive at the airport early. You’ll need plenty of additional time to locate the services you need, alert staff members, make your way through security and get situated on the plane ahead of general boarding.
Experience Supportive Living in an Intimate Neighborhood Setting
For individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Gull Creek offers a safe, comforting environment staffed by highly trained, caring team members. Your relative will enjoy a nurturing atmosphere personalized to individual needs, including engaging programming designed to enhance enjoyment of each day. To learn more about our memory care community or to plan a visit, please contact us online or by phone: 410-641-3171.