Traveling When a Loved One Has Dementia
Shannon Baker, LICSW and Manager of Therapeutic Programming, Regional Behavioral Health Center | May 30, 2012, 5:28 p.m.
A good vacation takes planning. That is especially true when traveling with a loved one who has cognitive challenges due to dementia.
Individuals diagnosed in the earlier stages of dementia usually travel well, however it can be more challenging with those in the more advanced stages. Individuals with dementia have ever-increasing difficulties in coping with change. It is important to understand the limitations of your loved one and to prevent over-stimulation, which can cause anxiety and fear. Traveling to familiar places and keeping trips short can help.
If you are flying, plan to avoid traveling at peak times such as holidays or when there may be weather delays. Let the airline know that you’re traveling with someone who has dementia. It is best to ask for a travel escort who will assist you and your loved one prior to the flight and once you have landed. The travel escort can help you with everything from navigating through security, to boarding the plane to handling your luggage and assisting with transportation.
Also, request an earlier flight when everyone is well rested and ask for a seat near the window to reduce stimulation of other passengers on the flight. If there is a layover, request enough time before flights so that you are not rushing. Most airlines have special services and lounges to rest between flights.
Keep carryon luggage to a minimum with the exception of medications, medical history documents, and some healthy food (as fewer airlines serve meals). Be cautious of beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, which may cause changes in mood or the need for frequent trips to the bathroom. Do bring family pictures to reminisce with your loved one and to provide a focus for redirection.
Once you have arrived at your destination, allow at least one day to acclimate to the environment. Pack familiar pajamas, robe, slippers and a pillow if possible. Continue to keep a steady routine each day, allowing time for rest periods.
Finally, have an emergency plan in place. Consider purchasing a Medic-Alert bracelet for identification, and pack legal documents such as advanced directives and durable power of attorney. Inform your loved ones’ physician as well and discuss emergency medical plans.
If you are traveling to a family member’s or friend’s home, discuss your loved one’s needs with them in advance. Once you have engaged this support, develop your own self-care plan, allow for humor and enjoy your travels.
Shannon Baker is a licensed social worker and manager of therapeutic programming at Auburn Regional Medical Center’s Regional Behavioral Health Center. For more information about Auburn Regional’s Behavioral Health Center, call 253-804-2813, Press option 1
This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.