by Jen Harris, Community Life and Outreach Manager.
Holiday lights, wood burning stoves and traditions are all things that remind us that the holiday season is upon us. This is also the time of year when most families make a point to gather together to celebrate. But for families of someone with dementia, this time of year can be challenging and stressful, even more so if you are traveling. But with a little extra time and planning your trip can be a joyous time for everyone involved.
Planning ahead is key! Wherever your travels may take you, create a flexible game plan before embarking on your holiday trip. Before taking a trip, it is best practice to consult with your loved one’s physician to make sure traveling is safe. Be sure to pack all medications, emergency contacts and copies of legal documents. You may want to consider leaving a day early to allow the person to transition and an extra day when you return. It is usually best to stick to the person’s daily routine, especially when it comes to meal time and rest. This will cut down on anxiety. Try not to pack all the fun into one day. And explain the current situation of your loved one with family, friends, airlines, hotel staff, etc. ahead of time. This will give them time to prepare.
What is the best time of day for your loved one? For most people with dementia, mornings and mid-day tend to be the best time. If you are flying, try to schedule a flight earlier in the day, as most delays occur to later flights. When traveling by car, consider high traffic times and rest stops. Create a music playlist specific to the person’s interest and reminisce about holidays to help pass the time. Pack snacks and water, as dehydration is a risk for seniors.
New environments may trigger wandering. Waking up in the morning in a new environment can be frightening and confusing. If staying in a hotel, reserve a room with two beds rather than adjoining rooms and make sure the hotel is accessible. Keep a well-lit, luggage free path to the bathroom and leave the light on all night. If staying with family or friends, try to find a room that has a similar position in the home as your loved one is used to. You may want to consider taking a photo of your loved one each day and enrolling them in the Safe Return and/or Medic Alert safety program…just in case.
And be prepared to cut the trip short if necessary. Even with a solid plan your loved one may not respond as well as you hoped for. If this is the case, you may want to consider a different strategy next time.
Caregivers need a break too! If you are traveling somewhere that is not accommodating to your loved one or you need time away, consider a respite stay in a local senior community. The demands of caregiving can be exhausting especially this time of year. Most senior communities will accommodate a brief stay for your loved one. You may consider hiring a private duty companion to take the trip as well. Don’t be shy about accepting help.
A proactive approach to traveling will allow for a happy holiday season!
For more information on Traveling with Dementia visit Alzheimer’s Association www.alz.org