Traveling, in and of itself, can be daunting on its own. I’m sure we have all experienced one or more of the pitfalls that can occur during a trip, such as delayed or canceled flights, lost reservations, etc… These pitfalls can quickly multiply if you are traveling during the holiday season. Its easy to imagine scenes from “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” as one navigates airports, train stations and congested highways, all while trying to keep a schedule and minimize expenses.
All of this becomes an even greater challenge if you are caring for and traveling with a person with dementia.
Obviously, as a caregiver, it is up to you to decide if the trip is plausible, keeping in mind that safety is the number one concern. It is always good practice to consult the loved one’s physician in such matters. Once the “okay” has been given, plans can be made.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation offers ten tips for traveling with someone with dementia:
Bring along an identification tag that your companion can wear around his or her neck. In addition, register him or her with the safe return program in your area.
Keep things as familiar as possible. For example, keep bedtimes and eating times as close to normal as possible, and bring the person’s favorite pajamas or pillow. If the person has never traveled on an airplane before, this is not the best time to introduce something new.
Be prepared. Get plenty of rest before the trip. Pack for the patient, allowing extra time for everything. Bathe and dress him or her without rushing, and make sure you both wear comfortable clothing during the trip. Research in advance what medical services are offered at your destination, in case you need them. Bring a brief medical history with you, including a current medication list, doctor’s telephone numbers and a list of any allergies.
Plan your itinerary well in advance. If staying with friends or family, make them aware of what Alzheimer’s is and what the symptoms can look like. Minimize time spent with large groups, noisy places or energetic children. Avoid busy, chaotic locations. Check in with family members daily during the trip.
Be realistic. Carefully assess what the person’s limitations and strengths are and shape the vacation accordingly. Also be realistic about your own and other caregivers’ limitations and strengths–can you handle the person if he or she becomes agitated or wanders or is unable to sleep? Get your doctor’s feedback on what is realistic and whether he or she recommends prescribing medication for the trip.
Limit the length of plane or car rides. If a trip is over four hours, two caregivers should be present. Bring along toys, photos, hobbies or other distractions in case the person with Alzheimer’s becomes agitated. Carry hand-wipes for any spills. Avoid caffeine.
If you are driving and the person with Alzheimer’s becomes agitated, pull over. Do not try to calm him or her and drive at the same time. He or she may become more disoriented and try to leave a moving car.
If you are traveling by air, avoid layovers, and try to fly on direct flights only. Carry all boarding passes, passports, and other important papers yourself, rather than giving them to the person with Alzheimer’s. Request a middle or window seat for your companion and an aisle seat for yourself so that he or she cannot wander away without your noticing. Pre-board the aircraft. Pack all medications in a carry-on bag–do not put it in checked luggage, which can get lost.
If you are staying in a hotel, request a large and quiet room. To protect against wandering order a door alarm or a childproof doorknob cover. Avoid rooms with sliding glass doors.
Have a back up plan. That way you can react to mishaps without become overly anxious yourself. Recognize when the patient is becoming upset or agitated, and stop any activities when necessary in order to get some rest.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, especially caregivers. Organization and flexibility will be keys to achieving a safe, happy season for everyone.