Seniors: Travelling with a person with dementia

Holidays are fast approaching and many families are busy making travel plans. Your family could be one of those families that travel during the holiday season. But If you have a family member with a diagnosis of dementia, you might be wondering whether travelling is a good option for your family. Having a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that the person with the disease can no longer travel.

It is true that persons with dementia do the best in familiar, stable settings with and well-structured routines. It is also true that travelling with a loved one with dementia can be a bit challenging and overwhelming. However, many families do have happy memories of travelling with a loved one with dementia.

If the person is in the early stage of dementia and has always enjoyed travelling, then they might still enjoy travelling.

Having a clear idea of the capabilities of the person’s capabilities as well as potential travel-related challenges is the first step in making the right decisions about destination, mode of travel, and duration of travel.

Some points to consider before planning your travel are the following:

Can the person with dementia complete their daily living activities?

How does the person respond to changes in routine and environment?

Would you be able to take on the role of caregiver?

Do you have some health issues yourself?

Are you able to adapt to the person with dementia if their needs change?

Some personal characteristics indicate that travelling is not a good idea for the person living with dementia. These include:

l Getting confused, disoriented and agitated even in familiar surroundings

l Wanting to go home even when away from home on short visits

l Having loss of bladder control

l Tendency to wander away from home

l Extreme anger, delusions and inappropriate behaviour

l Having a high risk of falling

l Unstable co-existing medical conditions

If you are unsure whether travelling is appropriate for the person with dementia, discuss with the physician before deciding against travelling. You may need written medical clearance from a doctor when travelling with some airlines.

An important step is to decide the destination and the length of your vacation.

Travelling to the person’s favourite yet familiar place is preferable. Experimenting with a short trip using the type of transport that is planned for the long trip will give you an idea of the person’s travel capacity and help you decide whether a longer international trip is a good idea.

Avoid travel during peak holiday season and plan to travel during the time of the day that is best for the person with dementia.

Plan for stopovers to enable the person with dementia to adjust gradually to time differences if any. It is a good idea to request for booking assistance when booking flights or cruises. This can help you get easy access to all phases of boarding and emigration.

Remember to carry a music player or an I-pod with the person’s favourite music. This can help reduce anxiety and agitation and also enable the person to relax. Carry the person’s favourite snacks, and/or a comfort object to provide diversion during mood changes.

Encourage the person to wear a disease identification bracelet and carry an identification aid such as photocopy of passport, driver’s license, and details of your accommodation with contact information at all times. This can be very helpful if the person gets lost.

Having a travel insurance is highly recommended, when you travel with a person with dementia, to cover any unexpected costs. Take time to find the best travel insurance for your needs.

Remember to pack a first aid kit containing all medications you may need while travelling, including extra medications, medications for stomach upset, diarrhea, and common ailments, and copies of prescription. Medication dispensers help you keep track of medications.

Carrying small business-size cards that simply say that the person with you has dementia (downloadable & printable from dementianetworkcalgary.ca) can be very helpful.

Going on holidays can be an enjoyable experience for a person with dementia and their family/ caregivers, because it provides a break from the routine and an opportunity for new experiences. With some pre-planning and preparation, travelling can become a pleasurable experience for you and your family member with dementia.

Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to padmajaganeshy@yahoo.ca

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