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Holiday Travel and Dementia

Are you caring for someone with dementia? Do your holiday plans include traveling with your loved one? Travel isn't easy in the best of circumstances, but during the holiday season, it can be especially challenging. If you search Google for tips on how to make travel easier on people living with dementia, you'll get more than 61 million results! We've compiled a list of the best advice we've found, including tips from the Alzheimer's Association and dementia educator Teepa Snow.

General Travel Considerations

As you're planning your trip, keep these things in mind:

  • Environmental changes can trigger wandering or confusion. Consider enrolling in a wandering response service.

  • It may be helpful to stick with the familiar. Travel to known destinations that involve as few changes in daily routine as possible.

  • Evaluate options for the best mode of travel. Based on needs, abilities, safety and preferences, decide what would provide the most comfort and the least anxiety.

  • When selecting destinations, consider those that have easy access to emergency health services and pharmacies.

  • Consider everyone’s needs and desires as you plan your trip; elaborate sightseeing trips or complicated tours may cause anxiety and confusion.

  • If you will be staying in a hotel, consider informing the staff ahead of time of your specific needs so they can be prepared to assist you.

  • Have a backup plan in case your trip needs to change unexpectedly. This may mean purchasing travel insurance if you have booked flights or hotels.

  • Carry with you an itinerary that includes details about each destination. Give copies to family members or friends you will be visiting or to emergency contacts at home.

  • Travel during the time of day that is best for the person. For example, if he or she becomes tired or more agitated in the late afternoon, avoid traveling at this time.

  • Have a bag of essentials with you at all times that includes medications, your travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.

  • Remember to pack necessary medications, up-to-date medical information, a list of emergency contacts and photocopies of important legal documents.

  • Allow plenty of time for rest. Don’t over schedule.

Documents to Take

Don't leave the house without these important documents:

  • Doctors' names and contact information

  • A list of current medications and dosages

  • Phone numbers and addresses of the local police and fire departments, hospitals and poison control

  • A list of food or drug allergies

  • Copies of legal papers (living will, advanced directives, power of attorney, etc.)

  • Names and contact information of friends and family members to call in case of an emergency

  • Insurance information (policy number, member name)

Air Travel

Moving through an airport requires focus and attention. The level of activity can be distracting and overwhelming for a person living with dementia. The Alzheimer's Association and Teepa Snow all provide excellent advice on how to navigate airports and airplanes.

  • Plan a non-stop flight from place to place if possible.

  • Try to get tickets to travel when your loved one is typically at his/her best. Mornings are usually better than later in the day.

  • Make your reservation through a travel agency or by working with the airline directly. Doing so allows you to add notes or instructions to the reservation for special needs such as wheelchair assistance or in-flight meals.

  • If possible, get first class tickets. This will allow for more room, less crowding, and the option for late boarding, rather than getting on early or having to walk all the way down the aisle.

  • Avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections.

  • Talk with your doctor about the possibility of using an anti-anxiety medication on the trip.

  • Pre-cue airline personnel and let them know about possible issues prior to boarding. Make sure they offer your loved one acceptable drink items and snacks. Pack favorite snack items just in case.

  • Bring favorite music, pictures, or manipulative items to keep her attention during the flight.

  • If medication was necessary on the flight, plan for a wheelchair to meet you at the gate. If you’re considering riding the airline “cart,” be aware that the noise may cause distress and fear.

  • If you have a phone or digital camera with you, take a snapshot of your loved one. It can take just a second to lose sight of someone in an airport, and having a real-time photograph would be helpful.

  • If traveling through an unfamiliar airport, review a map of the facility to plan for distance between connecting flights, locations where security re-entry may be required and locate convenient locations such as restrooms.

  • If walking is difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair or motorized cart so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place. Most airlines ask for at least 48 hours of notice.

  • Even if the passenger does not require support for mobility, consider requesting wheelchair assistance to help with navigation through security checkpoints. This support may help expedite the process and reduce stress.

  • While at the airport, ask what to expect and inform the TSA agent at the security checkpoint about the dementia diagnosis.

  • Do not hesitate to ask for assistance from airport employees and in-flight crew.

  • If the person needs help using the restroom, look for companion care bathrooms so you can more easily assist.

  • Stay with your travel companion at all times.

Visits to Family & Friends

Where many of the tips you've read so far discuss the logistics of making holiday travel as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved, when you arrive at your destination and you're with the people you've come to visit, here are some things to consider:

  • Prepare friends or family members for the visit by explaining dementia and any changes it has caused.

  • Go over any special needs and explain that the visit could be short or that you may need to change activities on short notice.

  • It may be helpful to stay as close to your normal routine as possible. For example, keep meal and bed times on a similar schedule to that followed at home.

  • Eating in may be a better choice than at a crowded restaurant.

  • Be realistic about abilities and limitations.

  • Allow extra time when scheduling activities.

As Teepa Snow so often says, "Remember to BREATHE and take care of your stress level. The person with you is taking cues from you at all times. The name of the game is be flexible and go with the flow."

If you're caring for a loved one with dementia, Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law can help make the process easier. Call 615.824.2571 to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation.


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