A dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean the end of all travel, but it does mean taking extra precautions and making extra preparations in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all. Travel may be possible for senior citizens living with Alzheimer’s until Stage 6—at this point, travel likely is not feasible or enjoyable for the senior. For those senior citizens who are able, travel is part of a healthy balanced lifestyle in preventing and slowing the onset of dementia. Here are some tips for caregivers who are traveling with someone living with dementia:
Decide Whether Travel Is Appropriate
While it’s important to give all seniors who are able a chance to travel and visit family and loved ones, it may simply be impossible for some, including those with Stage 6 or 7 Alzheimer’s. Other signs that travel is impracticable include a high fall risk, wanting to go home on prior trips, unstable medical conditions, severe mood swings, or agitation and aggression. Before you decide to take the trip, evaluate whether travel is right for your senior.
Look for ways to simplify travel, which may include utilizing direct flights over connections, avoiding unfamiliar modes of transportation, avoiding unnecessary shortcuts, and keeping surroundings familiar to the largest extent possible. It’s also a good idea to cap total travel time to 4 hours. Caregivers travelling with a person living with dementia will also quickly learn that the entire travel process requires additional time. Allot extra time in your itinerary to reduce stress.
Register with Medic Alert + Safe Return from the Alzheimer’s Association
One of the best preventive steps in caring for a person living with dementia is to register them with Medic Alert + Safe Return provided by the Alzheimer’s Association. This important program helps return senior citizens who become lost. In the program, when a senior citizen wanders off, the caregiver calls the organization, which in turn activates a network that includes local Alzheimer’s chapters, police, and other authorities. The senior citizen is identified by a medical identification bracelet and returned to their home. Countless lives have been saved through the program, and it’s a great way to locate a missing senior.
Stick with What’s Familiar
As Alzheimer’s caregivers know, it is unfamiliar circumstances that can give rise to mood swings, fear, and anxiety in an elderly person living with dementia. For example, if an elderly person has never ridden a subway, it’s best to avoid thrusting them into the situation in their senior years. If the elderly person has an object that brings familiarity to him or her, make sure you have it while traveling.
Travel During the Day
Daytime travel is often easier for seniors living with dementia, as it illuminates surroundings and allows for increased visibility. This, in turn, makes surroundings feel more familiar. Many seniors also have problems seeing and reading signs at night, which can increase the likelihood of wandering. To avoid nighttime confusion, travel during the day and rest at night.
Place an Info Card with the Elderly Person
Before you begin traveling, write out a notecard with the person’s name and information and the name of the hotel or address where the elderly person will be staying. Place the note card in the person’s purse or pocket. The note card may be useful to the elderly person or others in the event he or she wanders off or becomes lost.
Keep the Essentials Close By
Pack a bag with the essentials, including legal documents like identification cards and passports, a fresh change of clothes, the itinerary, prescriptions and medical information, food allergies, and emergency contacts. Keep this bag close by at all times, whether in the car or on a plane.
Have you traveled with a loved one with dementia? Do you have any additional travel tips or experiences to share that might be helpful for those with dementia? Let us know in the comments below.