After an Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia diagnosis, it’s normal to fear how the future may change.
Several families plan on traveling after retirement, “snowbird” to warmer climates for the winter, or seek to visit with family and friends who live at a distance. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis may feel like an obstacle to achieving these plans.
Maintaining a routine is said to be important for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Many people manage well when they are in their regular environment, surrounded by familiar people, and doing standard activities. Of course, routines are often disrupted when traveling.
However, it’s important for caregivers and people living with dementia to find a balance between safety and support, while also living their lives the way they’d like to.
Many people like to take advantage of travel opportunities before the disease progresses.
It’s entirely possible to continue making new memories together while ensuring your loved one who has dementia has the support they need for a safe and enjoyable travel excursion.
As with any change in routine, traveling could cause an increase in dementia symptoms. An Alzheimer's patient might experience an increase in confusion, memory loss, disorientation, or anxiety when traveling.
Even loved ones who have early stages of dementia may exhibit increased symptoms in new environments or while in stressful situations such as traveling. In addition to being in an unfamiliar place while traveling, there is an increased risk of your loved one wandering off or getting lost.
Note that these could still occur even if you are traveling to a place you’ve been to many times before - the change in routine can be difficult regardless of the destination’s familiarity.
With proper preparation, traveling with a person living with dementia is possible. Here, we’ll review some tips and preparations to make in order to have a safe, low-stress experience.
As much as you are able to, try encouraging your senior loved one to maintain as close to a familiar routine as possible, especially once you arrive at your destination.
Familiar routines may include a sleep and eating routine, as well as an exercise and socialization routine.
For the day of travel, try scheduling your travel times for the best part of your loved one’s day. If you have the option, consider flying out of a smaller airport to avoid significant crowds.
Make sure you leave plenty of time, especially if air travel is involved. If you’re driving or taking another mode of transportation, it’s still important to leave plenty of travel time and breaks for restroom use and resting.
When you’re making your travel plans, consider travel insurance and have a backup plan.
Dementia can be unpredictable and travel insurance can reduce the loss in the event something changes and you cannot leave.
If you have concerns that your loved one could get lost on your trip, consider whether a friend or family member would like to travel alongside you and your loved one as a travel companion, An extra hand can be helpful for both you and your loved one when it comes time to using the restroom.
You may not be able to leave your loved one alone, even for short periods of time.
In situations where travel is unavoidable, families may hire a care manager or home care aide to travel alongside them for additional support.
If you’re traveling by air, be sure to leave with plenty of extra time to make it through TSA Security and check in before your flight.
Some airlines offer assistance for people living with cognitive impairments. Call your airline when you book the trip to alert them of your loved one’s diagnosis and ask if there are additional accommodations that can be made to make the onboarding process easier.
When possible, explore the option of direct flights to avoid a secondary airport to navigate. If it’s not possible, avoid tight connections and aim for longer layovers to allow for extra time.
Make sure you bring copies of your important documents. This includes:
Keep these documents handy, along with your loved one’s medications in your carry-on to have them accessible at any point of the journey in the event of an emergency.
Due to the increased risk of wandering, periods of traveling can be an important time to consider additional safety tools such as a Medical ID bracelet and a tracking device.
Keep in mind that even those who do not have a history of wandering or becoming lost at home could experience this in a new environment or during times of stress.
Make sure the identification bracelet has both your travel contact information as well as information pertaining to your destination.
Once you arrive at your destination, again, it’s important to maintain a routine as similar as possible to the one at home. It may take some time for your loved one to adjust to a new routine, so planning longer trips can be beneficial.
Keep in mind that the traveling process may be exhausting for your loved one which may also exacerbate dementia symptoms.
If you are traveling to a different time zone, your loved one may take longer to adjust than previously.
Overall, with advanced planning and support, seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can continue to travel through moderate stages of the disease.
A Certified Dementia Practioner with over a decade worth of experience in various sectors of the elder care field- home care, senior living, and non-profits. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a certified dementia practitioner.
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