Alzheimer’s disease creates challenges not just for the individuals who receive the diagnosis, but also for the compassionate caregivers who choose to help them make the most of their lives every day. While its symptoms are known to create struggles for those who have the diagnosis, Alzheimer’s shouldn’t steal all the joys life has to offer from those who are affected by it. In fact, travel remains a completely achievable adventure for patients and their caregivers.
By planning ahead and making some simple tweaks to your vacation plans, taking trips with someone with Alzheimer’s can be a smooth, enjoyable experience for both the patient and caregiver. This guide is designed to help you plan your journey in order to make traveling as seamless as possible. Additionally, it includes information on what safety measures to put into practice while in the air, on the road, and once you’ve reached your final destination.
Items to Pack for Your Trip
Having the right documents, necessities and knickknacks will help take the worry out of traveling with someone who may need constant care and attention. The following resources offer information on some of the important items you’ll want to be sure to pack.
Pack important documents in case the two of you get separated. Your loved one should have a document on him or her at all times that contains medical information, an itinerary, your contact information, secondary emergency contact information, and the location of where you are staying during your trip. You should also carry a recent photo of your loved one, and keep his or her doctor’s phone number handy should you face an unforeseen medical emergency while you’re away.
Keep an extra few doses of medication. Should your trip be extended due to circumstances like inclement weather, you’ll want to be sure to have enough medication to keep your travel partner healthy and as comfortable as possible. Speak with his or her physician ahead of time if you’re worried about running out on your trip, and discuss how to get prescriptions refilled if needed while you’re away.
Whether you’re flying or driving, pack snacks and water for your trip, especially if your voyage is more than a couple of hours long. If your travel buddy becomes agitated while you’re in the air or on the road, he or she may feel better with something to munch or sip on. If you have a regularly-scheduled snack time every day, try to work this into your travel time, as sticking to your usual routine can be an instant stress-blocker.
Bring along familiar and beloved items. Both for travel and vacation time, having photo albums, trinkets or even toys that bring comfort to your loved one can be the difference between a smooth trip and one impacted by uncertainty and even distrust from your companion. Keep a couple of items handy for the plane or car trip, as well as any time you go out and about once you reach your destination.
The most tedious part of your journey may be the actual time it takes to travel. Having a plan ahead of time can take the guesswork out of this process. The following resources provide insight that will help you both have a more comfortable trip.
Try a test run. If you have never traveled with your loved one since the onset of his or her Alzheimer’s, taking a short trip to a local hotel or to a nearby family member’s house for a night or two can help alert you to problems you may encounter on a longer vacation, and therefore better prepare for them in advance. For example, if you share a hotel room and your companion wakes up disoriented by being in a new environment, this could be an indication that staying with family members in a home you’ve both visited before may be a better option than renting a room.
Whenever possible, travel with an additional caregiver who can support the both of you on your journey. Having a second set of helping hands – even if you plan on taking on primary caregiver responsibilities on your trip – will give you the freedom to take breaks as needed without worrying about your loved one being left alone.
If you are traveling by plane, request a wheelchair from the airports you are departing from and arriving to. Even if your loved one doesn’t typically use one, a wheelchair can be helpful in preventing confusion on where to go, as well as fatigue from walking all over the airport. It can also be a useful tool for helping caregivers avoid stress for fear their companion may wander away or get upset going through security. It will also speed up the boarding process, since those traveling in a wheelchair are usually able to board ahead of other passengers. It’s also a good idea to let airport employees and the flight staff know you are traveling with someone who has Alzheimer’s – this will help those around you understand why your travel partner may react in unusual ways should he or she start feeling panicked.
Take frequent breaks when traveling by car. If your loved one becomes upset during a car ride, don’t attempt to calm him or her down while you are driving. Instead, pull over at a rest stop or gas station as soon as possible to offer comfort, and wait until the episode passes to get back behind the wheel. Expecting to take regular breaks to get out of the car can also help someone with Alzheimer’s feel more relaxed during long rides.
Safety Precautions to Take While You’re Away
There are a few steps you’ll want to take while traveling, which are similar to some of the adjustments you may have made in your home in order to provide the best care for your loved one. The articles below provide useful information on creating a safe environment on your trip.
Let the people you are visiting know what role Alzheimer’s is playing in your life. Since the diagnosis, Alzheimer’s has surely created many changes for both you and your loved one. Alerting others as to what these differences are will help everyone communicate and help avoid uncomfortable moments, such as instances when your loved one anxiously reacts to stressful situations.
Make your lodging accessible for your loved one. Taking the same safety precautions you normally do at home will keep your loved one with Alzheimer’s safe and give you peace of mind. Locking doors will help prevent wandering, while keeping a clear and well-lit path to the bathroom each night and placing a nonslip mat in the bathtub or shower will help prevent falls.
Be prepared to cut your trip short if necessary. In the event that your excursion is just too overwhelming, have a back-up plan for getting home a little sooner. Be aware of flights you can book last minute, and if you’re traveling with a second caregiver, discuss if one or both of you should plan on leaving earlier than you’d originally scheduled.
Making Your Loved One Feel at Home
Routine is key for those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Maintaining a routine as much as possible while away will make you both feel more at ease. The following resources offer ideas on how to create a sense of home no matter where you may be.
Carefully consider your options on where you will stay for your visit. Staying with friends or relatives may be comforting for someone with Alzheimer’s. However, if your home is normally quiet and your loved one is used to solitude and privacy, staying in a full house with unfamiliar people may not be ideal. If you do choose to stay with people you know, make sure you can easily find a clean, quiet hotel room if this situation seems to be causing any anxiety or confusion.
Start and end your days at the same times you would if you were home. Any activities you have lined up – and you should schedule some fun things to do while you’re away! – should revolve around your normal waking and bedtime routine as much as possible. This will help reinforce the other regular daily tasks you’ll carry on doing while on your trip.
Continue your daily routine from home as much as possible when traveling. Those living with Alzheimer’s have a difficult time with change, and keeping consistency can help with confusion that may come from being in a new place, even for a short amount of time. Aim to keep meal schedules, personal hygiene regimens and recreational time on track to help your loved one transition smoothly to time spent away.
Visit places that are tied to happy memories for your loved one. If you are taking a trip somewhere that you have been to before, make an outing somewhere that you have visited previously, such as a beloved park or historical site. This may help ease some of the stress in being in an otherwise unrecognizable place, and may even trigger a fond memory from the past. If you are in a place neither of you have been to before, going to a familiar chain restaurant or store may provide similar benefits by establishing familiarity.
Although Alzheimer’s is a diagnosis that creates many daily changes, individuals with the disease and those caring for them should still try to find time to enjoy the activities they love. For those with a case of wanderlust, this guide can help individuals continue on in their quest for adventure.