For a person living with Alzheimer’s, a “simple vacation” can be anything but “simple.” Whether a vacation is just on the other side of town or across the country, careful planning and preparation is extremely important to help ensure the safety and comfort of both the person with Alzheimer’s as well as his or her caregiver. If travel plans are part of your summer itinerary, here are some tips to consider when you’re traveling with someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
Plan ahead. If you’re planning to visit family and friends, have a conversation with them before you arrive about your loved one’s condition. Be realistic as to what both you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease are able to do. Explain that you may not be able to do things the way you have in the past and will need to keep things manageable. When packing, include some items that your loved one may associate with being familiar and comfortable. Keep important documents with you in a safe place – health insurance cards, passports, doctors’ names and phone numbers, a list of medicines, and a copy of the person’s medical records. Write down and bring a list of emergency contacts. If you are flying, notify the airline in advance for accommodations related to security, boarding and seating and to learn about any specific companion requirements. You should also strongly consider traveling with another family member or friend who can assist you as well as the person with Alzheimer’s disease.
Simplify. Once at your destination, aim for as few changes in your daily routine as possible. Don’t plan too many activities in one day and allow lots of time for each activity. Consider traveling at non-peak times when crowds are smaller and wait times are shorter. Travel light and try not to overpack so as not to overwhelm yourself and your travel companion.
Take time to rest. Go slowly – take time out for rest and even for nap periods. While traveling is exciting, too much stimulation all at once could overwhelm a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Remember that enjoying your vacation is your primary goal. Try not to fill every hour of every day with a flurry of activity. Schedule events earlier in the day to address sundowning.
Keep a light on. When staying in an environment that is unfamiliar to the person with Alzheimer’s disease, such as a hotel or the home of a friend or family member, keep an unobstructed and well-lighted path to the bathroom and leave the bathroom light on at night.
Carry Identification. Being in an unfamiliar place may cause someone with Alzheimer’s disease to wander as a way to find something familiar. In the event that your traveling companion gets lost, make sure that he/she is carrying some form of identification with his/her name, your name and phone numbers including your mobile number and local phone numbers for contacts of those you are staying with such as family, friends or the hotel. Be sure to have a recent photo (paper and digital) of your travel companion.
Bring extra medication. Remember to bring enough medication with you to cover the period of travel. Also, bring medication for at least one extra day, just in case there are delays in your travel plans.
With thoughtful planning, a quick overnight “staycation” or an extended vacation out of state can be a fun and rewarding experience for a person with Alzheimer’s and his/her caregiver. Remember to adjust your expectations, be flexible with your itinerary, slow down and enjoy the small present moments.
Alzheimer Society British Columbia (http://www.alzheimerbc.org)
National Institute on Aging (https://www.nia.nih.gov/)