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Alzheimer’s and Travel: Plan A and Plan B

By , 3:08 pm on

Traveling with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, requires careful consideration and planning.
Travel, with assistance, may be accessible for someone who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  However, if a loved one has progressed to moderate Alzheimer’s, their own personal experience of dementia should be taken into account before embarking on a journey away from the familiar territory of home.  Every person is affected by Alzheimer’s in different ways so it is important to consider individual needs while planning for a vacation or attending a party. Routine, familiarity and structure are important to a person with Alzheimer’s disease and become increasingly so as their disease progresses.

Deciding to Travel

  1. You may want to consider a one-night trial run to see how your loved one would respond to traveling. This will help you to hightlight situations which could lead to agitation and whether your loved one will be able to handle the changes that naturally come with traveling.   In order to secure the safety and comfort of the person with Alzheimer’s, some families choose to hire a professional caregiver to stay with their loved one while the family makes the journey.
  2. Consider traveling to places that are familiar and known to the person with Alzheimer’s prior to the onset of their disease, such as the family summer place.
  3. Think about the routine and surroundings. Will a hurried travel schedule be possible, or will it be too disorienting and overwhelming? People with dementia become increasingly susceptible to bewilderment as their disease evolves.
  4. Consider taking a caregiver on the trip who can help provide a calming presence for the person with Alzheimer’s and respite for family members.
  5. Create a back-up plan for leaving early.

Travel Tips

  1. Try to travel on a less busy day. Traveling during the days just before Thanksgiving is exhausting for everyone, regardless of cognitive ability.
  2. If flying, schedule the flight for the time of day that is best for the person with Alzheimer’s. Buy travel insurance in the event you need to return home earlier than planned.
  3. Make sure there is extra time for any connecting flights as people with Alzheimer’s disease do not like to be hurried. If it is possible to schedule a non-stop flight, it will be worth the extra cost.
  4. Call ahead to the airport to arrange for airport staff to assist with a wheelchair, if needed.
  5. Be sure to pack extra clothes, medications, and important documents (list of medications, phone number for physician, emergency contact, advanced directives and insurance information) into the carry-on.
  6. If traveling by car, make frequent stops and be sure to stay with your loved one at all times in gas stations and restaurants. Disorientation can be greater when surroundings are noisy and busy.
  7. For air and car travel, play familiar music and bring hand games or projects that can keep your loved one’s hands busy.
  8. Incorporate as much familiarity and a regular routine as possible.
  9. Take along snacks and bottled water.  A person with dementia may be agitated due to hunger or thirst but be unable to communicate these needs.

Travel is possible when a person has Alzheimer’s. Many families find the best time for travel is in the early stages of the disease. Home Care Assistance Care Managers are a trusted resource for families who need help caring for their loved ones. We often step in with hourly care for short periods while families travel.

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This article was updated on August 25, 2016, replacing the original version which was published June 25, 2014.

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