In Part 1 of traveling with a parent who has dementia, I laid the ground work on what to expect while traveling and defining expectations from family members. Now let’s get in to a few specifics on travel arrangements.
When it comes to lodging, the sites I reviewed were unanimous – staying in separate rooms is not recommended. Upgrading to a suite or condo with two rooms was suggested as that will allow for privacy yet you can also hear if a problem arises. Any routines you do at home should be duplicated in your hotel room (sleeping with the bathroom light on, etc.).
Sleep in the room closest to the door (or station a caregiver there if you’ve hired help) so you’ll hopefully hear a parent who tries to leave on their own. One woman who has undertaken several trips with her mother indicated that the change in venue triggers night walking. To ensure her mother doesn’t leave the room while she’s sleeping, she leans a chair against the door handle. From experience, she’s found that her mom can unlock/open the door, but cannot navigate around a chair.
It may also be worthwhile to get a room with a kitchen so you can stock up on foods you know your parent enjoys. Don’t expect your parent to try new foods while you’re on vacation (maintaining a routine extends to both when and what they eat). So when sightseeing, pack their favorites in case there is nothing your parent will eat on the restaurant menu.
Getting to Your Destination
Whether driving or flying, you should plan on traveling during the time of day when your parent is at his/her best. If flying, this may result in higher airfares, but this really is about creating the most comfortable environment for your parent (which will only help you in the long run).
If you’re driving to your destination, build in time to stop and stretch every couple of hours. It will help keep your stress level to a minimum (which will help everyone in the car stay calm) and the fresh air can dissipate any growing anxiety of being cooped up. Also, keep your parent apprised of progress as it will help them to know when the end is near.
If you’re flying to your destination, try to book a direct flight or at a minimum, avoid tight connections as the rushing can trigger anxiety in your parent (heck, it triggers anxiety in me too!). Airports are noisy, chaotic places (even for a seasoned traveler) and it will be even worse for someone suffering from dementia. Navigating an airport is definitely a situation requiring a second adult to assist as someone needs to be focused on your parent at all times. Yes, you’ll be physically close to mom or dad, but chances are, you’ll be checking luggage, arranging a wheelchair, corralling carry-ons and all the other myriad details before you even start walking to security. Further reason for hiring a caregiver or bringing along an additional adult traveling companion.
Additional recommendations when flying include:
- When booking your reservations, ensure you are seated next to your parent (no exceptions).
- Arrive at the airport extra early to allow plenty of time to get through security. If you’re rushing to catch a flight, you’ll be on edge which will only rub off on everyone traveling with you (and especially a parent who is already anxious). As you’re approaching security, inform the TSA agents that you’re parent has dementia and may need a bit of patience getting through the checkpoint.
- Book wheelchair assistance with your airline – no reason to exhaust your parent just getting to the gate (being overly tired can also trigger dementia symptoms). In addition, as you go through security, it will give your parent a place to sit while you’re rounding up all your belongings.
- If you belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program, it may be worth purchasing day passes to the lounge as it will be quieter while you wait.
- When boarding the plane, inform the flight attendants that you are traveling with a parent who has dementia. If anything happens to you, they will know the scoop on your parent and can pass along this information to a medical crew if necessary.
- Check out my earlier post on packing medicines and documents to bring when traveling with an aging parent.
While on Vacation
Once you arrive at your destination, the key to a successful vacation is getting your parent back into a routine as quickly as possible. Regular times for waking up and going to bed are critical (particularly if they suffer from sundowning or other sleep issues associated with dementia).
When scheduling activities, keep in mind when your parent functions best during the day. Pushing your parent to do more can have disastrous results, so pick and choose what you want them to participate in and schedule plenty of supervised downtime so your parent can relax. Also build in extra time for meals, bathing and dressing (rushing can severely stress your parent which can cause dementia symptoms to worsen). Do involve your parent in regular activities you do – remember, it’s the routine that will help them enjoy themselves. So bring them along on your morning walk or coffee run (go the same route each time as again, routines help ease anxiety).
One traveler who took his mom with him to his son’s wedding said that she spent an inordinate amount of time in the hotel room as she was worried about losing her passport and other travel documents. He went on to say that the change in venue triggered confusion and panic about forgetting where things were located. Although the trip was a success overall, he did indicate it was hard (and required round-the-clock supervision).
Depending on their condition, traveling with a parent who has dementia may or may not be advisable. You may want to test the waters by going somewhere local first although if you’re bringing your parent to a big event (such as a wedding), that may not be an option. The key to successfully traveling with a parent suffering from dementia is to provide constant calming companionship. I would strongly recommend you not try this on your own and either enlist a family member or hire a caregiver to go on vacation with you.
Finally, after returning from vacation, it certainly seems worthwhile to schedule at least one day of downtime before returning to work so you can rest and recharge. I’m thinking spa day to help you unwind before jumping back in to work.
For further information, check out these three sites that I found most helpful: