Traveling with a Disabled Loved One

vacationIt’s that time of year. School is out. Vacation season is here! Maybe you’re ready to hit the beach, rough it on a camping trip, explore a new city, or visit friends and relatives who live far away. But what about your live-in mom or your dad who needs daily help with his groceries and medications? Will they enjoy coming along for the ride, or will their age-related issues be a downer for the whole family? Many of our Life Care Planning client families are considering the pros and cons of traveling with their impaired loved ones this summer. Here are a few things to think over before you get on the road.

A little forethought will go a long way toward making traveling as enjoyable as it can be for all involved. Realize that over time a person suffering from dementia becomes less and less able to mentally process everything they are seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching. Travel means change in all these areas. If travel has been a routine part of your loved one’s lifestyle, he or she may tolerate travel reasonably well. If not, this is probably not a good time of life to begin traveling. Even if your loved one successfully traveled last year or even last month, his or her ability to do the same thing today or tomorrow may have significantly shifted. As you make your plans, consider the following:

1. Try to choose as direct a route as possible and travel on “off-peak” dates or times.
2. Build in extra time regardless of the mode of transportation. Assume that your older loved one will need more time to walk from place to place, may be slower than the rest of the family with bathing, dressing, eating, etc., and may need frequent rest breaks. Rushing may result in increased frustration, irritability, confusion, and even aggression.
3. Choose comfortable, easy-off-and-on clothing. Avoid clothing with lots of buttons, hooks, zippers, or that requires belts. Shoes should be sturdy and slip-resistant.
4. Request a brief note from the physician stating the nature of the disability and any specifics that would make going through security checkpoints less troublesome.
5. Put identifying information on your loved one such as a safe return bracelet, a label sewn to a waistband, etc.
6. Carry documentation that clearly proves your relationship to the impaired adult such as a Health Care Power of Attorney.
7. Arrange for any equipment such as oxygen, wheelchair, shower chair, etc. to be in place or available upon your arrival.
8. Adhere as much as possible to the older person’s normal schedule, especially with respect to sleeping and eating.
9. Bring along something familiar like a pillow, blanket, etc.
10. Have something along that can provide distraction or activity such as favorite music, puzzle books, photo albums, etc.
11. While in transit, never leave the impaired person alone for any reason and never allow the impaired person to carry important documents, tickets, medications, etc.
12. Be realistic about your loved one’s ability to cope with traveling. In some cases, it is inadvisable and maybe even dangerous.

Finally, keep in mind that the goal of vacation travel is rest, escape, or retreat. If you have doubts that traveling will be pleasurable for you, your loved one, or those with whom you visit along the way, consider spending some quality time with your loved one in their own home or familiar environment. There are other ways to “travel” that don’t involve leaving home. For example, invoke pleasant memories from the past by enjoying the flavors and fragrances of a favorite meal, take a short drive to an old but familiar neighborhood or through a quiet park, revisit old photographs, listen as your loved one retells something about his or her life even if you’ve already heard it many times before, or hold his or her hand while you listen to music or watch an old favorite movie.