You stop by your mother’s apartment weekly to fill her pill box because she gets confused so easily. You take your Dad to every medical appointment because he can no longer drive. You receive middle-of-the-night emergency calls regularly from one of your parents who has fallen or doesn’t “feel right.” It’s time to start planning your annual multigenerational vacation and you wonder if traveling with aging parents is the right thing to do. Here are three questions to help you (and them) make the decision:
How will your parent feel about missing out on the trip?
Sometimes aging parents know that a trip is too much for them and they’d rather stay home. For example, if you are going to the mountains to ski and snowboard, maybe Mom resents hanging back at the cabin with a hot chocolate while everyone enjoys the snow. When there are no decent hospitals that can be quickly accessed from your vacation destination, bringing your parent with chronic conditions might not be a great idea. If your parent has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it’s possible she won’t realize a family vacation is on the horizon. In those cases, it’s often best to travel without the aging parent (as long as adequate care is provided back at home).
On the other hand, maybe there are friends and family that your father sees only when he goes on this annual trip so the idea of skipping it is devastating. If your parents are eagerly looking forward to the vacation or are expressing anxiety about being left out, it may be best to plan a way to include them.
If you bring them, how do you make sure you aren’t caregiving during the entire vacation?
In the case of a multigenerational family week at the beach or mountains, talk to everyone attending ahead of time about what sorts of caregiving activities they’d be comfortable helping with. For example, if you will be in charge of helping Mom in the bathroom, who will volunteer to assist her at mealtimes?
Another option is to pay for help, particularly if others in the family balk at participating in caregiving during vacation. If Mom already has a home health aide, could that person accompany the family on the vacation? Or perhaps you could hire someone local in the vacation vicinity to assist. Contacting your local Area Agency on Aging (www.n4a.org) for a list of individual providers may be helpful. Or if you are already working with a national home care agency like Right At Home, Home Instead, Bright Star or Comfort Keepers, see if there is an affiliated franchise in the resort town that could help. If Mom doesn’t have funds to pay for a professional caregiver, perhaps each family member can chip in what they can afford.
Are you willing to set firm boundaries with your parent about the parameters of the vacation?
Many caregivers are not adept at setting healthy boundaries with their aging parents. Remind your parents that while their needs are important, so are everyone else’s. If you are going to Disney World, remind Dad how long the days are and how much walking there will be. While it’s his prerogative to decline a wheelchair, let him know the family is not going to be stopping every ten minutes so he can take a break. If everyone wants to go to a baseball game but Mom prefers to see a movie, let her know the options. Maybe the two of you will see the movie when you’re back home. She could also can spend those couple hours alone or with her caregiver at the film while everyone else enjoys the game. Or perhaps Mom can simply agree to go along with the “majority rules” theme of a family vacation. While your aging parent’s wishes should be respected on the vacation, caregiving shouldn’t dictate the entire trip.
Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, MSW, CSP is the author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One. She is a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University and the founder of Jenerations Health. To read the first chapter of Cruising Through Caregiving for free, check out www.cruisingthroughcaregiving.com.