Summer is a wonderful time to explore new destinations, attend a family reunion, visit a newborn grandchild, celebrate a destination wedding, or check something off your bucket list. Traveling can be an exciting and rewarding experience that is better when shared. But what if you are the primary caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Can you travel with your loved one who has dementia?
Depending on where your loved one is in the progression of their symptoms, traveling with someone with dementia is not out of the question. With a bit of planning, a load of patience, and a few precautions, your summer adventure can be an enjoyable trip for you and your loved one.
General Travel Tips to Keep in Mind
1. Plan ahead. Book a hotel or rental that is comfortable and accommodates their needs. Inform the hotel staff of your loved one’s condition so they can provide any necessary assistance. You might want to consider booking a room easily accessible to the elevators to minimize walking. If you are planning to stay at the home of a family member or friend, let them know what you need and set expectations. You will want to research local emergency health services and local pharmacies. Try to plan your trip door-to-door and think about backup plans for unexpected changes.
2. Prepare your loved one. Traveling can be confusing, so preparing your loved one for the trip in advance is important. Talk to them about where they are going, what you will do, and what to expect during the trip. Use visual aids like pictures and maps. And count the days on a calendar until you leave.
3. Keep a routine. Maintaining a routine may be the most important to minimize confusion. Stick to their usual mealtimes, bedtime, and any other regular activities they are used to, like an afternoon walk. You may need to adjust the schedule slightly due to travel times or activities but try to keep the overall structure of their routine the same.
4. Avoid overstimulation. Try to avoid crowded or noisy places that can overwhelm your loved one. If you plan to visit a popular tourist attraction, avoid crowds during non-peak hours. And you may want to limit the number of activities during the day and allow plenty of downtime.
5. Be patient. Be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary, and don’t be afraid to take a break if your loved one is feeling overwhelmed. It’s okay to skip something if you need to.
6. Medical Alert ID. Before you leave, purchase your loved one an engraved ID bracelet or necklace to wear with their name, dementia, any other medical conditions, your name, and cell phone number.
Follow these helpful tips to get you on the road or by plane to your destination:
Traveling By Car
1. Plan your route carefully. Before hitting the open highway, plan your route carefully to avoid rush hour traffic and minimize the number of turns and exits that might get easily missed and cause added frustration. Use a GPS device or mobile app to help keep you on the right route and allow your co-pilot to just enjoy the passing scenery. And share your itinerary with family and friends.
2. Take frequent breaks. Long car rides can be tiring and uncomfortable, especially for someone with dementia. Plan to take frequent breaks every couple of hours to allow your loved one to stretch their legs and use the restroom. You can also bring their favorite snacks and drinks to keep them hydrated and energized.
3. Bring comfort items. Traveling can be stressful. Bring familiar things to help your loved one feel at ease. Pack their favorite blanket or pillow. Consider bringing a small bag of activities, such as puzzles, magazines, or coloring books, to keep them occupied during the drive. And play audiobooks or podcasts they enjoy listening to.
4. Play music. Music can have a calming effect on someone with dementia, so consider playing soothing music if they are agitated or anxious. Or play their favorite tunes if they want to have a sing-along. Choose whatever music they enjoy and create a fun or peaceful atmosphere in the car.
Traveling By Plane
1. Notify the airline. If you are flying with someone with dementia, it’s important to notify the airline in advance. They may be able to provide additional assistance, such as wheelchair service to help you navigate the airport easier or priority boarding. You may also want to request a seat close to the front of the plane for less distraction.
2. Inform TSA. TSA pre-check can be extremely helpful, but if that is not possible, let the agent know at the security checkpoint that your companion has dementia. You can also contact TSA CARES three days before arriving at the airport to schedule an agent to meet you and escort you through security. Stay together at the checkpoint and go through the metal detector first to meet them on the other side so they don’t accidentally wander off.
3. Book direct. Book a direct flight to your destination when possible and avoid tight connections that could easily be missed. It will be well worth the expense.
4. Arrive early. Arrive at the airport early to give yourself plenty of time for check-in and security screening. This cushion of time can help reduce stress and anxiety for you and your loved one and ensure a smooth travel experience. You may also want to consider purchasing lounge access, which may be a more comfortable and relaxing environment for your loved one.
5. Pack medications and paperwork. Pack all necessary medications, emergency contacts, current medical information, a list of medications with dosages, insurance information, and copies of legal documents like their living will and advanced directives in your carry-on luggage.
6. Be comfortable. You will want to bring a change of clothing and any personal hygiene items your loved one may need in your carry-on in case your luggage is delayed. Wear comfortable, soft clothing with layers to remove if they get too warm, and easy slip-on shoes for security.
7. Use noise-canceling headphones. Airports and airplanes can be overwhelming and noisy, which can make someone with dementia agitated or anxious. Consider using noise-canceling headphones to block distracting noises and create a peaceful environment. Let them sit by the window with the shade drawn during the flight. You can also play soothing music or nature sounds to help them relax further until you reach your destination.
And last, but far from least, take care of yourself during your trip. Traveling with someone with dementia can be a meaningful experience, but it is important to take it slow and be mindful of their needs and yours. In the hospitality industry, staff members—in-flight crew, airport personnel, hotel staff, or even security at a tourist attraction—are trained to be helpful to guests. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or support if you need it.
And depending on your circumstances, you may want to bring a third companion, either a friend or family member, to join the both of you. They can provide much-needed assistance, another set of hands with luggage, available for breaks, and share in the driving.
Creating new memories, being able to attend a family event, or visiting distant family or friends are things in life that you don’t want to miss and shouldn’t have to. If you plan carefully, follow their queues, and are patient, it is possible to travel with your loved one who has dementia.