For anyone whose parent is suffering from dementia, Jeannette’s stories of traveling with her dad are quite inspirational! It made me feel “lucky” as I’ve only had to face mobility issues when traveling with my mother. Stay tuned for an upcoming post detailing my interview with Dr. Franks and her advice on how to you prepare your parent (and yourself mentally!) for tackling a trip with a parent who has dementia.
Jeannette Franks, PhD, is a passionate gerontologist and for over 20 years has taught ethics, grief and loss, and courses on geriatrics and gerontology for the University of Washington. Currently she is a board member of the Bainbridge Island Senior and Community Center and is a Hospice volunteer. She also works with the Suquamish tribal elders.
Franks published a definitive guide to independent and assisted living titled Washington Retirement Options, and often speaks on retirement options, disability issues, end-of-life issues and is an advocate for accessibility. Jeannette has been traveling the world since she was 15 and speaks Spanish (badly, but is studying it). Most recently she was a Lighthouse Keeper at the Dungeness Spit for a week near Sequim.
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by Jeannette Franks, PhD Gerontologist
Traveling with an older person who is cognitively or physically disabled is challenging to say the least. Often it might not be recommended; however, sometimes it is unavoidable. Holidays, family reunions, weddings, and other happy events like the birth of a grandchild are usually enriched by grand- and great-grandparents, no matter how disabled.
For me, some of the best times I had with my dad, despite his full-blown Alzheimer’s, were in his last years when we traveled together. Our first trip together in his late life was to New York City. Who doesn’t love New York? He wanted to visit his mother’s grave, as well as his high school, his childhood home—and the theater, restaurants, and museums.
He needed close supervision. He thought he remembered the subway, but he did not. He wanted to wander, and I had to follow. But he was cognizant enough to love this long-familiar city. His earliest memories had lasted the longest.
Amazingly, it was a vacation for me too. Instead of doing his laundry, cleaning the fridge, and scrubbing the bathroom, as I did in his home, the hotel took care of laundry and cleanup. My dad and I shared quality time, and all the exercise meant that he slept well and felt great.
Beyond NYC, our most adventurous trip was to Florence, Italy. My father’s caregiver had charged air tickets to Europe on his credit card (that’s another article). And the only way to get his money’s worth was to use the ticket.
We had a splendid time!
We traveled in a small group with Elderhostel, now Road Scholar. All arrangements were made, all luggage was taken care of, and the trip was paced for older people. (Many of their other programs are quite challenging.) You only need to be 55 years or older, and if you are traveling with an older person you can be younger. There are also multigenerational programs, for example, for grandparents and grandchildren.
At any rate, don’t think a frail family member must be stuck at home. There are lots of options and although it may take a bit more planning, getting out can be great for all involved!