As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to traveling to visit friends and family. Many families ask me about traveling with family members with dementia. Here are my top tips.
- Plan your trip carefully. If flying, give yourself extra time at the airport to avoid stress. The airports can be busy and overwhelming over the holidays, so pace yourselves. Give yourself a cushion of time for extra bathroom and meal breaks. Consider asking for a wheelchair (even if your companion can walk). With a wheelchair, you may be able to get closer to the front of the TSA security line, thus reducing stress for both of you.
- Tell your hostess and host about your situation. Close friends and family members such as daughters and sons will be able to tell that your companion is having memory trouble. It can be very stressful for them if they don’t understand the situation. They can be supportive of you if they know about the dementia.
- Stay on schedule. If you can, try to keep on your home schedule and get plenty of sleep.
- Consider getting signing up with the Safe Return Program through the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org). Those with dementia may wander during travel. Safe Return can provide some reassurance for all of you.
- Plan for time to re-adjust back home. You may be looking forward to getting home so you can relax, but often the return can be stressful too. Ask friends to make a casserole for you, turn the lights on and turn up the heat in your house so it feels welcoming to both of you when you return.
- If the trip feels too stressful for you, cancel it. Your gut feeling is probably right. Ask your family member’s health care provider to help with the decision or support. Sometimes advice or a letter from the provider can smooth hard feelings when you have to cancel.
Remember, pace yourself, get plenty of rest, and prepare for a pleasant homecoming. For more guidance, or to review these tips, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website: www.alz.org or call their helpline: 1-800-272-3900.
Allison Lindauer, PhD, NP, Assistant Professor; Director, Outreach, Recruitment & Education, Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, OHSU.