Tis the season for vacations and visitors…are you ready? Getting ready for either can be stressful at any time of life, but can be a bit more challenging when you throw disability or dementia in to the mix. The best advice is to BE PREPARED. Take the time to anticipate obstacles and plan ahead. There are a number of web sites (some listed below) that offer tips for travel or in home visitors for seniors and especially those with dementia. Here are just a few suggestions.

  • As you start planning, consider the particular needs of the individual you are traveling with, including current health and wellness issues related to their dementia or other health concerns. Adjust your expectations with regard to length of trip, daily activities, accommodations and spending time with many different people.
  • Be sure to bring with you a list of medications (both yours and your loved one’s), doctor’s numbers, phone numbers for emergency help in the location you are staying (including poison control), and names and numbers of family or friends that you can contact in an emergency. If there is a crisis, you are better off to have all of those details written down so you aren’t relying on memory when you are upset.
  • Choose wisely when you plan on telling your loved one with dementia about the trip. Talking about it too far in advance may cause them to become agitated. It can also result in an overwhelming number of repetitive questions.
  • Stick to familiar places previously vacationed at before dementia arrived. If traveling to a new locale, inquire ahead of time about issues such as stairs, grab bars, bathrooms, food availability, etc.
  • Plan your travel mode carefully. If driving, plan plenty of rest/stretch periods and adjust your expectation about travel time. Bring along things for your loved one to do in the car, such as magazines, relaxing music CDs, cards, snacks, etc. If your drive is longer than a few hours, consider bringing along another person to help you out. If your loved one has never flown before, now would not be a good time to do so. If your loved one gets agitated while you are driving, pull over. Do not try to calm him or her while you are trying to drive.
  • Follow the schedule of your regular day at home as much as possible. For example, eat meals at the same time; get to bed around the same time. Limit the number of daily activities and stimulation as needed. Avoid caffeine or other foods that may have an adverse affect on you or your loved one.
  • Stay away from overcrowded places if your loved one has dementia. It will create anxious feelings for both of you.
  • Make sure the person with dementia is carrying or wearing some form of identification on them. If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to register your loved one with the Alzheimer’s Association Medic Alert® + Safe Return Program®. This program is specially designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and helps reunite families with the person with dementia who has wandered. (I have brochures here at Daybreak if you would like more information).
  • Don’t try to do this trip alone. Have someone traveling with you, who can help with the caregiving duties. Think about what will be required of you as you consider destinations: do you want to be cooking and cleaning in a cabin or would you rather have room service in a hotel?
  • Be flexible. Have a contingency plan that will allow you to leave early if your loved one becomes ill, agitated or wants to go home.
  • If you are visiting family or friends, or they are visiting you, it may be wise to prepare them in advance if your loved one’s abilities or cognition have changed considerably since the last time they saw you.
  • Try to schedule events for the time of day that your loved one is most able, for example not during afternoon if sun downing is a problem, or he or she regularly naps.
  • The energy and activity of small children can be overwhelming for long periods of time for someone who isn’t accustomed to it, especially someone with dementia. It is ok to let children/grandchildren know this so that they may plan accordingly.
  • Remind family who isn’t familiar with dementia that quizzing and reality orientation are not helpful, but often cause an increase in anxiety. Encourage them to reminisce by providing all of the information needed: “Boy Dad, I love this picture of me and you and Sandy at Ocean City. I think we must have been about 12 when Mom took this one. Those were some fun times…” instead of “Dad, who is this, where were we, etc”. The latter just causes stress on both parts and doesn’t provide enjoyment for anyone.

And that of course is the goal of vacation …to ENJOY! A little advance planning will help everyone make the most of the visit.

Christina Forbes, LGSW from the Daybreak Newsletter 7/2009