When a loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers are often unsure about how to best prepare for an inclusive family getaway. Keeping a loved one safe when out of their familiar environment can be one of the biggest challenges for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Managing difficult behaviors such as agitation is another.
For over 20 years, The Bristal has been providing care for older adults living with dementia and supporting their family members. Our team has curated the following tips that may be helpful if you are planning to travel with your loved one.
1. Be Realistic in Your Expectations
As a caregiver, you likely know your loved one’s limitations best. If you are traveling by air, consider spending the extra money for a direct flight and try to book flights that are no longer than four hours. Also, try avoiding the red-eye or an extremely early flight. Starting the trip fatigued may make caregiving on the go more difficult.
If you are traveling by car, take frequent breaks, as your loved one may become restless or agitated after long periods on the road. Remember that new or unfamiliar places may add to their distress, so it’s important to remain calm and soothe tensions before they escalate.
2. Consider Your Vacation Destination Carefully
Is it possible to return to a vacation spot your loved one is familiar with? Doing this can help avoid some of the agitation and stress that a change in environment can create for someone living with cognitive decline.
3. Consider Enrolling in GPS Tracking or a Safe Return System
Taking someone who lives with dementia out of their environment can put them at greater risk of getting lost. If you are separated and their verbal abilities are impaired, it may be difficult for you to be reunited.
Before you leave home, consider purchasing a mobile personal response system like eCare or eResponder. Both work via GPS technologies that make it easier to locate someone who is missing in real-time. The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return and Comfort Zone programs are also good options for caregivers to consider.
4. Create an Identification Necklace for Your Loved One
It can be as simple as purchasing a badge holder and adding their identifying information to the pocket. Make sure their identification card has their name, your name, a cell phone number, and at least one other family member who can be notified in the event of an emergency.
5. Prepare for Emergencies
Create a wandering kit just in case you become separated during your vacation. Have digital photos of your senior loved one on your cell phone, as well as hard copies of the image with a written description of them that you can easily access. These items can help emergency responders locate your family member more quickly.
6. Plan to Take Breaks
Sightseeing can present different challenges for someone living with Alzheimer’s. The hustle and bustle of tourist attractions might increase their agitation. The same goes for having to wait in long lines. Build rest breaks into your plans, and try to avoid sightseeing marathons.
7. Rest Up Before the Trip
For many families, the days leading up to a vacation can be hectic. Try to shield your loved one with Alzheimer’s from that frenzy. Instead, make sure they are adequately rested before you embark. Becoming overly tired can trigger agitation and challenging behaviors in those with dementia.
8. Arrange Travel Plans Around Their Best and Worst Times of Day
Caregivers generally know their loved one’s behavioral patterns. If agitation gets worse around sundown, for example, try to plan your day so you are safely settled in your hotel room by then. Or, if your loved one is at their best during the early morning hours, try to plan the majority of your travel for those hours.
9. Bring an Emergency Medical Information File
Don’t forget to plan for a medical emergency. That means bringing along your loved one’s medical history, a list of prescriptions with dosages, current physicians, and their contact information. For more information on how to organize your loved one’s medical records, read these helpful tips.
10. Ask for Special Accommodations
Many people are reluctant to ask for special treatment when traveling. When a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease travels with you, however, it can make all the difference in keeping them safe and relaxed.
Alert the airline ahead of time, and they can arrange an escort to get your family to and from the gate. Instead of booking your hotel room online, personally speak with the hotel or reservation department manager when you book rooms. Explain the situation to them and ask if there is a room in a quieter location you can reserve for your trip.
11. Have a Quick Way to Share Your Situation With Others
One final tip is to create a laminated card that you can carry with you, which provides a quick explanation of your loved one’s condition. When you arrive at restaurants or destinations on your trip, hand it to the host or greeter. This makes it easier than explaining things repeatedly and potentially causing embarrassment for your loved one living with Alzheimer’s.
With preparation and planning, your entire family can enjoy a fun getaway together this year!
View Additional Alzheimer’s Resources
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