Holiday Travel Is Possible in Early Stages of Alzheimer’s

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by Ray Burow |

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A record number of people are expected to travel this holiday season. The travelers will undoubtedly include familial caregivers journeying with loved ones who have dementia. These are courageous individuals, perhaps seeking one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s disease prevents them from traveling to faraway destinations.

Taking a trip with someone who has Alzheimer’s is challenging, but it’s doable with persons in the early stages of the disease. It takes more planning and closer attention to detail — the very characteristics associated with caregiving. The difference is that you’re mobile while doing it. It won’t be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but these tips will help make the trip memorable in a good way.

Strategic planning

While living in the moment is essential, flying by the seat of our pants is not. Traveling and caregiving require extensive planning and organization that includes thinking outside the box.

Respect your loved one’s routine

How do your loved ones respond to certain stimuli? Do they react well to instructions? When are they most responsive? Will traveling in the morning after a good night’s rest make the day go more smoothly? Are frequent naps part of their daily routine? Driving during sleepy times might be advantageous. Gaining miles while your loved one quietly naps in the passenger seat could be a godsend.

Plan bathroom breaks

Polite conversation doesn’t include bathroom habits, but it is a discussion that caregivers should have with themselves. It is a concern when traveling, especially if your loved one wears disposable underwear.

Infusing bathroom breaks into travel arrangements will help avoid embarrassing issues for your loved ones. Their dignity must be placed at the forefront while traveling. Follow the person into the bathroom, perhaps even into the larger handicapped stall. Provide the person with as much privacy as possible, but do not allow the opportunity for wandering out of the bathroom. Stay close to help with hand washing and locating what the person needs.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

You must determine how you will travel with a person who has dementia. If your loved one isn’t comfortable around strangers, limiting interaction is crucial. Driving might be a better choice than flying or taking a train to your destination.

If you are traveling by plane, inform the airline of your situation. Set aside a wheelchair or arrange for transportation between gates. The airline can also arrange for early boarding. Determine the best place to sit on the plane, and remember to inform the flight attendant of your loved one’s cognitive issues. This may prove helpful once the flight is under way.

Travel bag

Do not leave home without a travel bag that is customized to the needs of your loved one. Keep it where it is easy to access, whether in a car or on a plane. It should be packed with essentials for the trip. A few things to include:

  • Paper underwear
  • Hand wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra clothing
  • Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for travel days
  • Sweater or small throw blanket
  • Tissues
  • Puzzle book or other distraction that your loved one would enjoy

Traveling with someone who has cognitive issues is a challenge, but it can be worth the trip. Having traveled with my mother in the early stages of her Alzheimer’s disease, I can vouch for the experience. It is a memory I will always have, though I admit that at times during the trip I was at my wits’ end. But I would do it all over again. A last opportunity only comes along once.

Whatever your holiday plans this year, I wish you a very merry Christmas and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your loved one.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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