Traveling with Dementia

August 16, 2018

Planning a family vacation is almost a full-time job in itself, particularly if you’re trying to satisfy a wide range of age groups and preferences. If someone with dementia is part of that picture, it can be especially challenging to discern what kind of trip would be doable – or even if travel is a good idea, period. Before getting too far down the road, it’s wise to take a look at Dad’s general behavior and search for potential issues. Red flags include if Dad has a tendency to wander; if he’s highly prone to agitation or aggressive behavior; if he tends to want to go home, even during short visits with familiar faces; if he has trouble managing incontinence; or if he’s at high risk of falling.

Next, ask yourself some questions to help figure out how your this person would do away from home, including:

  • Does she have a hard time in crowded, unfamiliar situations? How does she do at the grocery store or shopping mall? Do loud noises bother her?
  • Does she get confused or agitated when plans change abruptly?
  • How is her energy level? If she’s mid- to late-stage dementia, chances are she’s plagued by fatigue and can only handle short bursts of controlled activity.

Now think about your own needs. How do you handle it when Mom’s behavior gets challenging? Would you be OK dealing with disorientation, public outbursts, soiled clothing? Also, would you have a support system where you’re going, or be handling things by yourself? Rather than feeling guilt or pressure to take on the challenge, be honest with yourself and your family about what you’re realistically able to handle.

If you decide that the trip is worth attempting, here are five steps to take to make the experience go as smoothly as possible:

  • Set realistic expectations. This echoes a bit of what we talked about earlier. Take a hard look at where Dad’s at and adjust your travel accordingly. If he’s mid-stage or beyond, keep your destination close to home and avoid challenges like air travel all together.
  • Make sure Dad has ID on him. Keeping in mind the worst-case scenario, make sure Dad has an ID bracelet or necklace on before departing.
  • Arrange medical transport. This could be a helpful service to have, particularly during transitions like getting to and from an airport, as well as in and around a travel hub.
  • Keep Dad’s environment as familiar as possible. People with dementia can be easily confused and agitated by unfamiliar surroundings. Make sure to bring portable items from home, like a favorite pillow or blanket, and stay close at all times.
  • Allow extra time. On a good day, you can count on travel taking longer than you anticipated; this is doubly true when accommodating for dementia. Give yourselves plenty of extra time to allow for delays like traffic and gate changes without the stress of having to rush someone who really can’t be hurried along. Better to sit and kill time look at family photos together than causing your Dad (and yourself!) unnecessary agitation.

Do you have tips for caregivers travelling with dementia? We’d love to hear them in the comments!