A dementia diagnosis can change the lives of all involved- patient & family alike. After you finish thinking through how day to day life will work with this diagnosis your mind may wander to travel. Is traveling with Alzheimer’s or travel with dementia even still possible? If you and your loved one enjoyed globetrotting, road tripping, or just had that one special vacation spot that you went to year after year, it may actually be very beneficial to both of you to get out and travel again.
Traveling with Alzheimer’s – Assess the Situation
Be realistic. This is probably the single most important thing when thinking about traveling with dementia. Alzheimer’s and other dementia are progressive diseases. In the early stages, someone who has always enjoyed travel may still be able to do so. In later stages this could be a nerve wracking, disorienting, and even torturous experience for both you and your loved one. After taking honest stock of what one’s situation is, a decision can be made about whether or not traveling with dementia is still an option. Though your loved one may be up to it now, plans for travel too far in the future may not have the outcome you planned for.
If travel isn’t realistic anymore day trips in your local area may be a possibility to still keep a sense of adventure in their lives.
Traveling with Dementia- Planning Phase
It is important to understand in advance that traveling with Alzheimer’s or other dementia will change the way you plan and travel.
Stay as familiar as possible. If you live rurally and have normally vacationed to islands now is not the time to switch things up and attempt to tackle New York City. The change of place, surroundings, and noise levels will most likely be extremely disruptive and disorienting to your loved one traveling with dementia. Stick with tried and true places that may spark a memory, childhood homes, or favorite haunts of yester year.
Don’t switch languages. Make sure that wherever you are traveling to speaks a common language, preferably whatever language your loved one is the most comfortable speaking. Navigating a medical or wandering situation in a country where you both don’t speak the language is a recipe for disaster.
Plan to stay in the same hotel each night so that they can become familiar with their new surroundings. Pick a destination with things to do around a central location to help facilitate this. The comfort of coming back to the same place each night can help with patient clarity when traveling with Alzheimer’s.
Try to maintain as much of the usual daily routine as possible. Keep meal times and rest periods the same as they are at home. This will go a long way in making sure that your vacation is a good one for both of you. Comfort levels are often directly correlated with routine schedules.
Traveling with Dementia Transportation Options
How will you get from point A to point B when traveling with dementia? Does your loved one have a fear or flying? Don’t fly. Irrational fear of the open ocean? Cruises may not be your best bet. Traveling can be very scary for someone with dementia, so try and limit travel time (i.e. no 20 hour long flights to Hong Kong). If your loved one has medical issues that may prevent them from traveling by normal means, it may be possible for a private EMS service to help. Talk with your doctor and see if this may be an option. This can be very helpful for patients who may be near the hospice phase and want that one last trip to see their hometown or family.
Air Travel with Dementia
When utilizing air travel keep in mind knowledge is power. Airport security can be challenging even for the best of us. Explain to the TSA agent that your loved one has dementia so that the process can run more smoothly.
Wheelchair service is available in airports so call ahead to see if this is a viable or appropriate option if walking is difficult. When booking online check off that you’ll need a wheelchair. These services can take time so plan accordingly. Many times they will unload the entire flight before accommodating the removal of wheelchair passengers. A tight connection is never a good idea when wheelchair service is needed.
Giving your gate agent and flight attendant a quick heads up can ease the process. You may be able to preboard the plane giving you additional time to get settled onboard.
Plan for Extra Time Every Step of the Way
Plan to leave far more time than you think you’ll need so that no one is rushed. This will help keep everyone calm and centered. If traveling by air, no close connecting flights. Allow for blocks of time to stop and walk around or to use restrooms in your drive schedule if you are road tripping.
Temper Your Expectations and Appreciate the Time You Do Have
Plan to move slowly and don’t set up an action packed full day agenda. Take it easy and always leave yourself an “out” if things aren’t going as you had hoped. Take it in stride if some of the hot ticket sightseeing opportunities get missed. This is one reason why I recommend heading somewhere you personally have already been. When you are familiar with the lay of the land it’s easier to have a Plan B.
If you need to take what hikers call a “zero day” and lounge around the hotel room, go ahead and do it. Remember, traveling is supposed to be fun. Set yourself up for success by being open to whatever the day provides… even if it is a tub of cookie dough ice cream and a marathon of Jeopardy reruns. The pace they used to keep may not be the pace they are able to keep now. Take it easy and have fun.