Tips for Traveling with Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

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As more people get their COVID-19 vaccines, social gatherings are likely to become a part of life again. If you’re feeling ready to hit the road again to see grandchildren or visit a favorite vacation spot, you will be considering how to keep the journey safe and smooth for your loved one with dementia.

People with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia often have difficulty with new environments, new people, change in routine, change of time zone, noise, and fatigue. These challenges can usually be managed more easily in the early stages of the disease, as the person is less likely to become disoriented, agitated, or distressed than in the later stages. Someone who requires assistance with bathing, dressing, and toileting will probably have significant problems with traveling, even with short trips. Also, people with behavioral problems such as paranoia or delusions will likely have difficulty with traveling.

Caregivers should also be honest about how prepared you feel to travel with someone with dementia. While traveling, caregivers will need to manage unexpected events and challenging behaviors, sometimes in public. They may face many stressful situations and lack of sleep. It’s important to have realistic expectations, be patient and have flexibility in your plans.

Here are some tips to consider when planning to travel with someone with dementia:

1. If this is your first trip since your loved one has developed dementia, or if his or her behaviors or care needs have changed significantly since traveling last, it may be useful to do a trial run. Practice by taking a short trip, ideally using the same type of transportation planned for the longer trip. This can provide a sense of the person’s travel capacity. If the person does not tolerate the shorter trip, you may want to reconsider or adjust your plans.

2. When packing, make copies of important documents and information to take with you, including:

  • Identification
  • Emergency contact information
  • Doctors’ names and contact information (You may also want to identify medical facilities at your destination.)
  • List of current medications and dosages
  • List of drug or food allergies
  • Copies of legal papers (living will, advanced directives, power of attorney, etc.)
  • Insurance information
  • Travel itinerary
  • COVID-19 vaccination cards, if applicable

2. Have the person with dementia carry or wear identification (such as an ID bracelet) at all times. Consider marking their clothing with their name. Make sure that the following information is in their wallet or purse: name, important phone numbers, and any medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Remember to pack the following:

  • Water, drinks
  • Snacks
  • Activities to do while traveling and at the destination
  • Favorite items
  • Medications (Consider consulting your doctor about medications for mood control, pain, stomach upset, diarrhea, or other temporary problems that might arise while traveling.)
  • Face masks and hand sanitizer

4. Being prepared in case of an emergency is crucial. Put together an emergency kit in a watertight bag or container. This kit should include:

  • Copies of important documents and identification
  • Recent picture of the person with dementia
  • Extra clothing
  • Extra medication
  • Incontinence products
  • Bottled water
  • Food
  • First aid kit

5. Try to travel to familiar, stable, and well-ordered settings. Try to make the trip there as short and simple as possible.

6. Build flexibility into the travel plans to give the person time to adjust and rest as needed.

7. Allow plenty of time for everything, from driving to the train station to navigating the airport.

8. Try to travel during the person’s best time of day.

9. Do not drive alone with a person who is agitated. Your safety, as well as theirs and that of other people using the roads, may be at risk.

10. Take regular rest breaks. Check frequently to ensure that all basic needs are met (toileting, hydration, nutrition).

11. Make sure the person is wearing comfortable clothes that allow for ease when using the toilet.

12. Do not leave the person with dementia unsupervised, especially in new surroundings. There should be a familiar and reassuring companion at all times.

13. Try to avoid crowded, busy, or loud places, especially if the person is tired.

14. The level of activity at airports and travel stations can be confusing or stressful to someone with dementia.

  • Consider calling ahead to request a wheelchair so that you have assistance getting quickly from place to place.
  • Look for signs of distress and try to calm and reassure the person. Remove the person from the stressful setting if possible.

15. Inform the airlines, travel, or hotel staff ahead of time of any special needs to make sure that they are prepared to assist you. Always ask for assistance; people cannot help you if they do not know that you need help.

16. Use services designated for people with disabilities.

17. Be sure that your destination has a safe environment. Keep in mind the following:

  • Working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers
  • Non-slip surface in the shower or bathtub
  • Water temperature (faucets in new places may be confusing, so check to make sure the temperature is properly adjusted)
  • Adequate lighting in the hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms (take several nightlights just in case)Try to remove potential hazards and clutter (unplug or remove the coffee maker, hair dryer, etc)

18. Be aware of the risk of wandering that can be triggered by a change in environment.

19. If you are staying in a hotel and wandering is a problem:

  • Lock the door to the room and place a chair in front of it if possible
  • Consider using a portable door alarm or childproof doorknob cover
  • If there are two beds, sleep in the one closest to the door

20. Control access to car keys.

21. Try to keep a sense of humor, and enjoy your time with the person.


References

Alzheimer’s Association. (Nov 2007). Travel Safety. Retrieved on May 22, 2008 from http://www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_travelsafety.pdf.

Dementia and travelling. (Nov 2007). Retrieved on May 22, 2008 from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Dementia_and_travelling.

Hall GR. Travel guidelines for people with dementing illness. University of Iowa. Retrieved on May 22, 2008 from http://www.centeronaging.uiowa.edu/archive/pubs/Newest%20Versions%20-%20pdf%20format/Travel%20Guidelines.pdf.

Moxley J. (1996). Totebag and Toothbrush: Travel Tips for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Piedmont Triad Alzheimer’s Association.

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