It’s an excellent time for loved ones to gather and enjoy one another’s company. Holiday traveling with a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, however, poses special challenges. Most of these are able to be overcome or lessened with thoughtful pre-planning. Enjoy a safe and pleasant trip with the following tips.
- Timing – The holiday season is a very busy and stressful time of year and traveling with one who has Alzheimer’s could hold surprises. If your loved one has Sundowner’s behaviors, consider them when making travel plans. Plan to travel during their best times of the day and allow time to decompress in the evening before sundowning is exhibited. If possible, limit travel time. Four to six hours with several breaks is a reasonable length of time for traveling with an Alzheimer’s patient.
- If Planning to Fly – Security screenings may be problematic unless a little preplanning is done. If possible, make arrangements so security screening will not happen at a bad time of day for your loved one. Call TSA ahead to understand screenings and inquire about what could be done to make it less stressful for your loved one. Special consideration may be given to Alzheimer’s if TSA is contacted ahead of time and you explain you are traveling with an Alzheimer’s patient. Security may be able to screen both of you together. Expedited screenings are routinely offered for those over the age of 75.
- Bring an Activity – Photo albums or coloring books provide a distraction from long waits at the airport as well as an activity during car rides. Play music they enjoy or even have a sing-along!
- Be Prepared for Emergencies – Hopefully, you will have a pleasant trip without accidents or incidents but be prepared. Pack all necessary paperwork, insurance papers and cards; have medical information with you and remember important ID cards. If possible, download an app on your phone to access and store health information. Health Tracker and Care Zone are two excellent choices.
- Keep Track of Your Loved One – In stressful circumstances such as different environments, Alzheimer’s patients are prone to wandering. Provide safety for your loved one by using an available tracking device. Pendants, watches, even shoes with GPS in the soles are some of the technology used for these situations.
- Use Contact Cards – If your loved one is prone to wandering, a contact card helps to reunite you. On it write your name and your loved ones with needed contact information. Include other family members or friends’ information in the event you cannot be reached. Place the cards in your loved one’s purse, travel bag, and shirt pocket. Have a few to share with hotel clerks and security where you are staying. An ID bracelet with your contact information as well as your loved one’s name is ideal.
- Don’t Forget Medications – Most Seniors take several medications and supplements. Bring all medications and have enough for the entire trip. Avoid the unnecessary frustration of trying to get a prescription filled away from home. Always carry a list of medications with dosages, instructions, and quantities.
- Bring Familiar Items – A change of environment creates stress and confusion for those living with Alzheimer’s. Life is made easier by bringing familiar items. Pajamas, pillows, even a favorite blanket helps to lessen anxiety.
- Consider Staying in a Motel or Hotel – Even though it may be fun to stay with relatives, it may be extremely distracting with Alzheimer’s. Relatives do not always understand how the disease affects individual behaviors. Providing a quiet, neutral place where there is some semblance to their normal routine may help the visit go smoother.
- Be Realistic with Expectations – Before committing to making the trip consider the types of behaviors your loved one exhibits, particularly when under stress. Are behaviors able to be handled comfortably outside normal circumstances? If you are not confident consider staying at home or using respite care for your loved one.
Communities offering respite care plan special activities for the holidays and your loved one will be invited to participate. Don’t feel guilty if it is best they do not make the trip.
Above all be patient with yourself and your loved one. This is a season of peace, joy, and goodwill. Enjoy your holidays and make new memories.
For more information on Alzheimer’s please visit ALZ.org