Trav­el­ling tips to help dad with de­men­tia

Ad­di­tional plan­ning and con­sid­er­a­tion can make it pos­si­ble to take your loved one along on the planned summer road trip


Summer is com­ing and my mom and dad want to travel with us on a summer road trip to a fam­ily re­u­nion. My dad has de­men­tia and we are not sure if it is OK for him to make the trip. Signed, travel wor­ried Sum­mer­time is travel time for many fam­i­lies and the thought of trav­el­ling with a person with de­men­tia can be anx­i­ety pro­vok­ing. How­ever, many peo­ple in the early phase or mid­dle phase of the ill­ness can travel; but it does take some ad­di­tional plan­ning and con­sid­er­a­tion. The dis­ori­en­ta­tion that can oc­cur is hard to deal with be­cause one’s fa­mil­iar rou­tines are chal­lenged. Even for well in­di­vid­u­als, travel is ex­haust­ing and can present chal­lenges. The more se­vere the im­pair­ment, the more a person is sus­cep­ti­ble to the change of pace, noise and lo­ca­tion.

Stay­ing in a new place can mean that the cues that keep them go­ing are not there.

The fa­mil­iar­ity of one’s bed, bath­room and per­sonal items is com­fort­ing, and the fact these things are not present can cre­ate dis­ori­en­ta­tion, anx­i­ety and ag­i­ta­tion.

Some in­di­vid­u­als also don’t do well when sleep­ing in a place that is un­fa­mil­iar; like a road­side ho­tel where wak­ing to go to the bath­room or not know­ing where you are can be over­whelm­ing.

Trav­el­ling to a set lo­ca­tion — like a fam­ily cot­tage — and stay­ing put is usu­ally eas­ier than a trip that re­quires daily change. Con­sider this op­tion in light of a road trip.

An­other thing to con­sider when trav­el­ling is whether your dad gets up­set or anx­ious in crowds. How does he do in a mall or other strange place? Does he be­come eas­ily con­fused in his own en­vi­ron­ment? In­di­vid­u­als who ex­pe­ri­ence in­con­ti­nence may also have more prob­lems. If anx­i­ety, delu­sions or wan­der­ing are an is­sue, it is likely not go­ing to be easy to man­age. If the person is some­one who of­ten re­sists be­ing di­rected, it is also likely things may be­come dif­fi­cult on route.

Hav­ing said that, if you can or­ga­nize the trip with as much sta­bil­ity as pos­si­ble, things can work out. Make sure that dad’s doc­u­ments and health in­sur­ance are up to date. Make sure he is reg­is­tered with Med­i­calert be­fore leav­ing.

If you can, pur­chase trip can­cel­la­tion in­sur­ance and en­sure that you are fa­mil­iar with the health-care sys­tem where you are go­ing. Med­i­ca­tion and extra help may be needed. This can come in the form of

A por­ta­ble night-light is good to pack. Make sure doors have latches, since peo­ple with de­men­tia can wan­der if in an un­known place

fam­ily to help you while you ne­go­ti­ate the route and travel is­sues. If you are trav­el­ling by car, make sure that the person is com­fort­able and seat belted. Door locks should be in your con­trol at all times if pos­si­ble; and stay with your rel­a­tive in rest stops and in bath­rooms.

Don’t drive if the person is ag­i­tated. It is bet­ter to take a rest and a snack, and set­tle down. If pos­si­ble, find quiet and serene rest stops. A pic­nic or road­side café is bet­ter than a busy fast food stop.

Limit your time in the car and start off the trip as a rested care­giver for your dad. If you are stay­ing in a mo­tel or with fam­ily or friends, take a quick look and eval­u­ate the risks. A por­ta­ble night-light is good to pack. Make sure doors have latches, since peo­ple with de­men­tia can wan­der if in an un­known place. A por­ta­ble door alarm or chimes are also help­ful.

Make sure to also get a break from the care­giv­ing job for some “alone time.” Ask for some­one else to su­per­vise your dad or con­sider hir­ing help if fea­si­ble. If you can, plan to stay in one place for as long as pos­si­ble, so that fa­mil­iar­ity im­proves.

Ex­pect that the travel and ad­just­ment days will be harder. Be re­al­is­tic in what you choose to par­take in. A fam­ily din­ner or a big re­u­nion are de­mand­ing. Pace your­self and don’t feel that your dad has to do it all. Ro­tate rest and ac­tiv­ity time. Pro­tect your­self and your dad from un­nec­es­sary stress. You know best what he needs — don’t let oth­ers dic­tate.

Small, sim­ple and well-paced trips can be en­rich­ing and fun, but if you have doubts, talk to a pro­fes­sional who knows your par­ent and de­cide if this travel plan re­ally can work.

Don’t give up on the plans for your­self ei­ther way. There are ways to make it hap­pen. Nira Rittenberg is an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist who spe­cial­izes in geri­atrics and de­men­tia care at Bay­crest Health Sciences Cen­tre and in pri­vate prac­tice. She is co-au­thor of De­men­tia: A Care­giver’s Guide, avail­able at bay­ Email ques­tions to care­giv­ing­with­nira@bay­


The thought of trav­el­ling with a person with de­men­tia can be anx­i­ety pro­vok­ing. But the trip is pos­si­ble if you take some pre­cau­tions.

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