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I’ve been traveling around the world with my mom for two decades. During that time we’ve visited Australia, England, China, Cambodia, and France, to name just a few of the destinations on our ever-growing list.
But age is starting to slow her down (only a bit!), and though she’s still eager to continue our explorations of new countries and cultures, we’ve had to make some adjustments to our travel style. For example, with Mom now using a wheelchair much of the time, we take accessibility into consideration when booking hotel rooms and exploring tourist sites.
I know that many of my readers have parents with mobility issues similar to Mom’s or other health concerns (such as dementia) that may make travel with aging parents seem difficult or even impossible. So I was thrilled to talk with Thomas Stern, whose company, Assisted Vacation, specializes in helping this population.
Valerie Grubb (VG): What exactly is an “assisted vacation”?
Thomas Stern (TS): Physical or cognitive limitations in older age can make vacation and travel difficult. With an assisted vacation, skilled and caring staff provide planning services and on-vacation support for individuals who value the quality of life and adventure that travel provides but require physical or social support to maximize its benefits.
(VG): How long has your company been around, and what motivated you to start this business?
(TS): Our company has been in operation since December 2011. As a former family caregiver for my two grandparents (who both had dementia), I developed this model of service after identifying my personal need for a vacation. My research in graduate school and my time as a healthcare coordinator at an adult day care showed that many others wish to include their elderly loved ones on holiday as well.
(VG): Tell me about your first customers.
(TS): My first customers were Sandra and Dennis, two successful engineers who were spending their early retirement traveling all over the world until Dennis suffered a hip fracture after a fall. When their children planned a family reunion at the beach, Sandra and Dennis were determined to go—and so they contacted me.
I met them at their home and drove them in their van (filled with presents for the grandchildren—and medical equipment such as oxygen tanks and an electric wheelchair for Dennis) to the shore. We stayed there for two weeks, and during that time I assisted them with their medical needs and personal care. But we also connected through shared personal stories and amazing meals, including an amazing Key lime pie that Dennis made (which is the standard by which I now judge all Key lime pies).
(VG): How can assisted vacations be especially beneficial to seniors and their adult children who are traveling together?
(TS): Our clients tell us that they find our services valuable because without our support, they would not attempt to travel for holiday. Our mission is to improve their quality of life, and our services make taking a vacation possible for individuals who may have dementia or physical limitations. For us, it’s all about helping our clients make great memories on vacation!
(VG): How has working in this field changed your perceptions of travel and the elderly?
(TS): Before our services existed, it was hard to imagine that an individual with Alzheimer’s disease or physical impairment could take a vacation with his or her loved ones. Our experience has shown that not only is it possible for elders to take a holiday, but that their health and wellness can improve as a result of it.
Is your interest piqued? Come back tomorrow for the second half of this interview and learn even more about assisted vacations!