How caregivers can vacation with dementia patients
To say that taking care of a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s is difficult is an understatement. Even so, traveling a long distance with such a person is daunting, but not impossible. An article from U.S. News even highlights a woman who took frequent trips, even on a cruise ship, with her husband who suffered from Alzheimer’s, but it’s not for everyone.
People suffering from dementia become anxious easily. There are a lot of unknowns when going on a trip that may concern them. It’s probably best to travel when the roads and airways are less busy. If traveling for the holidays, this may mean leaving several days before the holiday to avoid the rush. This is a great idea, too, because traveling with your loved one will take longer than expected.
Even if you’re traveling alone with your loved one, you’re not always alone in caring for them. You can ask flight attendants or hotel staff for assistance.
A very comprehensive collection of advice on traveling with an Alzheimer’s patient can be found at the Alzheimer’s Compendium. The article makes it clear that traveling with a person with dementia is very possible, but there are some warning signs to look for in your loved one that will suggest if it’s better to risk travel or not. These include (via Alzheimer’s Compendium):
- Consistent disorientation, confusion, or agitation even in familiar settings
- Wanting to go home when away from home on short visits
- Delusional, paranoid, or uninhibited behavior
- Problems managing continence
- Teary, anxious, or withdrawn behavior in crowded, noisy settings
- Agitated or wandering behavior
- Physical or verbal aggression
- Yelling, screaming, or crying spontaneously
- High risk of falling
- Unstable medical conditions
If it is possible to travel with your loved one, here are some things to consider:
- Test the waters with a shorter trip close to home before going on longer trips.
- Never let dementia patients travel unsupervised.
- The Alzheimer’s Compendium suggests bringing a bag of essentials available at all times. Pack it with medications, travel itinerary, change of cloths, water, snacks, activities and a list of emergency contacts.
- Be flexible. Have a contingency plan that will allow you to leave early if your loved one becomes ill, agitated or wants to go home. It’s very important to get the trip delay/interruption insurance if traveling by plane.
- Talking about the trip too far in advance may cause anxiety and agitation for your loved one.
When traveling by airplane
- Have a recent picture of your loved one with you. Take one on the day of the trip so you can show people what he was wearing if he gets lost.
- Talk with his doctor about medications that can be prescribed to keep your loved one calm. Also check if he might need something for travel sickness.
- Speak with the airline and airport security along the way and well in advance of your trip. Discuss special arrangements and precautions you should consider. You can also arrange for an attendant to escort you through security and on and off the plane. Possibly arrange for a wheelchair if your loved one will ride in it. Keep in mind that most airlines ask for 48 hour advance notice when requesting assistance.
When traveling by car
- If your loved one becomes agitated in the car, stop as soon as possible. It can be dangerous to try to calm him while driving.
- Have regular rest stops and check that basic needs are met during those times. Stay with your loved one at rest stations, gas stations or restaurants as places that cause confusion may trigger wandering.
- If possible have your loved one ride in the back seat with someone who can comfort them if needed.
At the destination
- Be ready to prevent wandering and be ready to find him if he does so. Enroll your loved one in Safe Return, a program that is in place to help find Alzheimer’s patients when they become lost, or think about getting a GPS locator for him to wear.
- Take a cell phone picture of your loved one every day so if he becomes lost, you can show people what he looks like and what he was wearing.
- Take along a travel door alarm and consider using a childproof doorknob cover.
Traveling during holidays with someone who has dementia can be difficult, but with proper planning and preparedness many of the obstacles to traveling with a loved one who has dementia can be overcome.
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