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 baycrest.org/dacg. Email questions to email@example.com.
The thought of travelling with a person with dementia can be anxiety provoking. But the trip is possible if you take some precautions.