Dementia is used to describe a group of medical conditions related to memory loss. While long-term memory loss isn’t a normal part of aging, there are many older adults living with various types of dementia. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. However, with summer approaching, Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t have to stop you from exploring new places or visiting family and friends. In fact, many people living with these diseases continue to travel and even do so alone in certain circumstances. While travel has been severely curtained in recent months throughout the country, you may need to travel for unforseen circumstances. Even a trip to the store, or to visit family may need some preparation and of course, if you need to travel to a new living situation you may need to fly or take a long car trip. If you are planning to travel with a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the best way to have a safe and enjoyable trip is to be prepared.
Preparing for Your Trip
According to the National Institute on Aging, as dementia progresses, it can impact our, “behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with daily life and normal activities.” Depending on the stage of dementia, traveling will pose different challenges. Your loved one’s ability to communicate, behavioral patterns and mood changes can all be affected by a sudden change in routine or venturing into unfamiliar environments. As you prepare each aspect of your trip, from accommodations to transportation, it’s important to think about your loved one’s needs and abilities.
Evaluating your transportation options
Depending on the nature of your travel, you will have to decide how to get to your destination. When traveling with someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, simplicity is key. You might consider minimizing your travel time by taking fewer stops or avoiding airport layovers. Whether you’re traveling by air or by car, there are a few important elements to keep in mind as you prepare your itinerary:
Traveling by Air
The Dementia.org team surveyed caregivers and those diagnosed with dementia to explore their experiences when traveling by air. Those who participated were asked to describe the challenges and surprises they encountered throughout their travels. Here is what they found:
Traveling through airports can be challenging for all people, especially for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, following instructions can become increasingly difficult.
Nearly half of the participants encountered problems with checking in, bag screening, finding the boarding gate and restrooms, hearing announcements and reading information on signboards.
Navigating the security checkpoint was exceptionally difficult for those with severe cognitive impairments, specifically those in the later stages of the disease. While it’s helpful for the person with dementia to travel with a caregiver, oftentimes caregivers are unable to help with security checkpoints such as individual screenings.
All of the participants noted that while there were challenges, traveling by air was possible if both the caregiver and loved one were prepared. The following tips helped ease the traveling process for participants in the study:
• Arriving to the airport early to leave time for unexpected challenges
• Notifying airport staff that you are traveling with a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease before your travel date and at the time of arrival
• Minimizing stressors including hand-held luggage
• Going through security checkpoints behind your companion. If you enter through security in front of your loved one, you won’t be permitted to return to them.
• Seek out quiet spaces of the airport including unused gates or sitting areas. These can be helpful in times of stress and chaos.
• Bring noise canceling headphones to help minimize distractions and agitations.
Traveling by Car
It’s recommended to travel by car when traveling with someone with dementia, especially if your destination can be reached within one travel day. Traveling by car gives the caregiver and loved one more control over their journey. Rest stops, food options and overall environment can mostly be controlled.
If you are in the midst of planning a road trip, remember to plan out your rest stops. Searching for a rest stop can be stressful during an urgent situation. Knowing where you will stop and which rest sites are close by will give you a better sense of control. It can also be helpful to consider how long your traveling day will take you, factoring in your loved one’s behavior and mood.
If your loved one is feeling overwhelmed or agitated, you might consider moving on to your safety plan. As you create your safety plan, make sure to consider where you might stop if something comes up or who you will need to contact in the case of an emergency.
Travel Considerations to Keep in Mind
In general, traveling can be stressful for all people with various ability levels. Once you’ve decided to travel, there are a few simple things you can do lessen the stress and anxiety surrounding the trip:
Start your trip prepared- You want to start preparing and packing for your trip a week or so before the travel date. As you begin packing, make sure to take extra clothing and personal care items with you in the case of an emergency. Get plenty of sleep the night before and bring foods that your loved one enjoys and will eat without hesitation. Lastly, leave yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning before beginning your road trip or heading to the airport.
Write and share your itinerary- Before your trip, write down all of your travel plans, including hotels, and even rest stops you plan to visit. This itinerary should be shared with family and friends who will be available to assist you if needed.
Take important documents with you- In the case of an emergency, you will need to access important documents. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is suggested to take the following essential documents with you while traveling:
• Doctor’s name and contact information
• A list of medications and dosages
• Phone numbers of local police, hospitals and poison control
• Copies of all legal papers including a living will, power of attorney and proof of guardianship
• Name and contact information of emergency contacts
• Insurance cards and information
Be alert to wandering- If your loved one is at risk of wandering, make sure they are wearing an ID bracelet or write their name and your contact information in their clothing.
Dealing with an emergency- If your loved one is prone to outbreaks and aggression, make sure to pay attention to their warning signs. If you are driving when an outbreak takes place, pull over immediately. If you need to calm down someone with dementia, there are proven techniques to help you.
Embracing Summertime Travel at Maplewood Senior Living
Travel doesn’t always have to be a source of tension for you or your loved one. Our staff at Maplewood Senior Living are seasoned professionals who can help you prepare for your trip and provide you with travel tips and tricks. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.