Traveling with a Loved One with Dementia

Traveling to a new destination can be distracting, overwhelming or difficult to understand for someone with dementia.

Read below for tips to ease vacation travels by Katie Michaud, MS, OTR/L
Cornerstone VNA Team Manager

What is Dementia? The Alzheimer’s society explains Dementia as a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem solving or language.

Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated memory loss, impaired judgement, and problems with daily tasks. There are 10 different types of Dementia with Alzheimer’s being the most common accounting for 60-80% of cases.

Dementia has 7 different stages starting with very mild cognitive decline ranging up to moderate to severe cognitive decline. Depending on the stage of your loved one can greatly impact how to prepare to travel with them. As a loved one who has mild cognitive decline is still capable of performing daily tasks and their daily life activities are only slightly impaired as to one with moderate decline are disoriented to time, place, and have little to no independence to be able to function in daily tasks.

In the earlier stages of mild to moderate Dementia with the correct preparation traveling with a loved one who had Dementia is attainable and enjoyable.

Factors to consider before traveling

  • Can you travel safely and comfortably?
  • Is the destination new or familiar to your loved one?
  • Do you have a support system to travel with or when you arrive?

Consider these factors and once you decide that the trip can happen here are tips to help lessen caregiver stress.

10 Tips for traveling with a loved one with Dementia:

  1. Allow extra time.

Whether you are driving in a car, train, or plane. Keep in mind that your loved one will need extra time to get comfortable with their surroundings. If going by flight, TSA Cares is a helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying. Travelers or their companions may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 (Federal Relay 711) or email [email protected] The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are 8 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET on weekends and holidays. TSA strongly recommends travelers call TSA Cares 72 hours before travel.

TSA Officers can screen travelers with Dementia without separating them from their traveling companions. You and/or your companion can inform the TSA Officer about the best way to approach and conduct the screening, especially if it is necessary to touch the traveler during the screening. If your companion provides assistance during screening, he/she will need to be rescreened. You or your traveling companion may ask to be screened in a private screening area.

  1. Have an identification bracelet for your loved one

This is important to consider if your loved one is a wanderer. You can also put your name on their clothing with your number and a list of their medical conditions in their wallet if they have one on them.

  1. Have their list of medications and emergency contacts in hand

Documents to have would be emergency contact information, any lists of allergies and medications, and medical conditions.

  1. Consider hiring a medical transport service.

The airport will provide this service to you if there is a need for a wheelchair.

  1. Consider staying in a hotel or Airbnb

A hotel or Airbnb can give your loved one a calm place to be if the trip becomes hectic. You can contact the hotel staff prior to make them aware of any special needs.

  1. Create an itinerary for emergency contacts

Have emergency contacts with numbers, flight numbers, medications needs, travel times if pertinent and any other itinerary items of your trip.

  1. Keep surroundings familiar

People with Dementia have a difficult time in unfamiliar environments. Try to stick to their routine as much as possible. Another tip is to have familiar items of theirs with them on the trip. Examples would be blanket, clothing, or pillow.

  1. Limit Travel time to 4 hours or less.

If your trip or flight is longer than 4 hours you may want to have two caregivers. Try to have some activities, books, or photos for your loved one to stay busy with depending on what they enjoy.

  1. Limit connections and layovers if flying.

A direct flight would be the ideal situation to limit the amount of transition and new environment. Many airlines will allow you to pre-board.

  1. Set realistic expectations.

Those in the early to mild stages of Dementia are easier to travel with. Take into consideration if they have any unstable medical conditions or are they a fall risk? Do they need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair? Do they have any other medical diagnosis that could be unsafe for them to be on a longer trip. If they experience delusions, physical or verbal aggression it may be best to choose a local trip that can be done in a day or two.

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