This is the time of year when families and friends are making plans to reunite and celebrate the holidays, which often means boarding an airplane or sitting in a car for hours. If your long-distance travel plans include a loved with dementia you will need to take a few extra steps to make sure the trip is safe and enjoyable for everyone.
First, keep in mind that familiar and simple are easier for the person with dementia than new and exotic. In other words, as you and your family plan your celebration and destination, the less complicated it is the more your loved one will be able to relax.
Regardless of whether you’re traveling by car or plane, heading to a family home or vacation destination, make sure the individual is wearing an identification bracelet and that you have a current photograph in case your loved one does wander off. If your loved one has a history of wandering you might consider enrolling in “24/7 Wandering Support,” which is operated by the Alzheimer’s Association in collaboration with MedicAlert® Foundation.
Other general travel guidelines recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association include:
- If possible, travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia;
- Put together a bag of all medications, doctor contact information and copies of legal documents, such as medical power of attorney, along with water, snacks and a change of clothes;
- Carry an itinerary that includes details about each destination and give copies to family members or friends you will be visiting and to emergency contacts at home.
- Allow extra travel time for eating, restroom stops and the likes.
- If you are worried that a long car ride or flight might make your loved one agitated, talk to the physician about medication for the trip.
When Traveling by Air
While online booking may be your preferred go-to method, it’s best to contact the airlines directly so you can make any special arrangements, such as a wheelchair or in-flight meal. Book a non-stop flight if possible, if not avoid scheduling flights with tight connections.
All passengers are required to undergo screening by the Transportation Security Administration, but the agency offers a program for travelers with special needs. Call TSA Cares (855-787-2227) at least 72 hours before departure with questions and concerns.
If your loved one needs assistance with the restroom, ask an airport employee where family restrooms are located.
Patients with hallucination, incontinence and other symptoms of advanced dementia may be unable to travel by commercial airline. One option is booking with an air ambulance that provides non-emergency transportation.
Preparing for a Road Trip
If you are worried that walking at a rest stop and other unfamiliar places may be a problem, contact your local license bureau about getting a temporary (or permanent) handicapped parking sticker. You might want to also borrow or rent a wheelchair.
Along with favorite snacks and drinks, put together a bag with games, books, music and other activities that your loved one might enjoy during the ride.
If your car ride includes a hotel stay, make sure you have made a reservation in advance and that the room includes any safety features you may need.
If you will be at a location for an extended period of time, consider contacting the local Alzheimer's Association for resources and support.
When Respite Care is the Answer
Sometimes a person’s dementia may be too advanced for long-distance travel. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay home too.
Many skilled nursing centers and other healthcare facilities offer overnight respite care for people with dementia. Most insurance plans will not cover the cost, but cost is just one consideration. The physical and emotional demands of caregiving are great and can be a health risk if the caregiver doesn’t schedule regular breaks and getaways.
To find respite services in your community contact the ARCH National Respite Locator Service.