Summer Vacation: 7 Tips for Traveling with Your Loved One with Dementia

Senior traveling on an airplane

As anyone caring for a loved one with dementia can tell you, caregiving responsibilities require considerable amounts of time, energy, compassion and devotion. As a result, caregivers sometimes give up the things they enjoy most in life such as summer vacations and travel. 

However, according to dementia care experts, that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Says Susan Irrgang, RN, NHA, MBA, Administrator at Saunders House located in Wynnewood, PA, “The good news is that with the right preparation, some loved ones with dementia can be part of your summer travel and vacation plans. Their condition simply requires that you do some extra planning to ensure their safety and enjoyment while traveling.”

Helping You Make the Decision to Travel

As noted in the Alzheimer’s Association® article “Traveling,” “Whether taking a short trip to see friends and family or traveling a far distance for vacation, it's important to consider the difficulties and benefits of travel for a person with dementia. In the early stages of dementia, a person may still enjoy traveling. As the disease progresses, travel may become too overwhelming.”

Also, when considering a summer vacation that involves travel, evaluate the needs, abilities, safety and preferences of the person with dementia, as well as the best form of travel. The Alzheimer’s Association® recommends the following:

  • Go with the option that provides the most comfort and the least anxiety.
  • Stick with the familiar. Travel to known destinations that involve as few changes in daily routine as possible. Try to visit places that were familiar before the onset of dementia.
  • Keep in mind that there may come a time when traveling is too disorienting or stressful for the person with dementia.

7 Expert Tips for Traveling with Your Loved One with Dementia

The Alzheimer’s Association® section, “Traveling,” and the article, “10 Caregiver Tips for Traveling With Alzheimer’s,” offer many helpful ideas if you’re thinking about traveling with your loved one with dementia this summer.

For example:

  1. Familiar travel destinations are often better choice for your loved one with dementia. Consider traveling to destinations that your loved one has already visited before their onset of dementia. Visiting their former vacation locations can bring back many pleasant memories for them. Regardless of your travel destination, be sure to maintain your loved ones established routines.
  2. Vacationing in new environments can be confusing for loved ones with dementia and can trigger wandering. Therefore, keep the person safe by taking precautions, such as enrolling in MedicAlert® + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return®.
  3. Avoid long-distance travel by car or by airplane. Travel of four hours or more can be too difficult for your loved one with dementia. Also, try to avoid travel layovers, which can cause stress and agitation. 
  4. Travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia. Keep in mind that “sundowning” often occurs around dusk and can cause your loved one with dementia to feel anxious and upset. 
  5. Take necessary medications, up-to-date medical information, their doctors phone numbers and a list of emergency contacts. It is also suggested that you bring important documents such as copies of legal papers (e.g. living will, advanced directives and power of attorney) and insurance information.
  6. Be prepared for the unexpected. Allow extra time for unforeseen delays and factor in waiting times food or rest stops. Be sure to pack some water, snacks, favorite “comfort items” and a change of clothes. Also, research medical options available along your travel route and at your destination.
  7. Dementia care experts suggest staying in a hotel rather than with relatives. A hotel can give your loved one a calm place to go when the trip becomes hectic. They may also be able to stick to their routine better in a hotel. In addition, some family members may not be familiar with Alzheimer’s and might not know what to expect. Be sure to make the hotel staff aware of any special needs you have in advance.

Susan adds, “If your loved one is unable travel safely and comfortably, all is not lost. Today, many busy caregivers are using respite care such as those offered at Saunders House. Respite care provides family caregivers and their loved ones with a break from the typical care routine. Caregivers are afforded some down time to do the things they enjoy and can rest easy knowing that their loved ones benefit from the care and support provided within our safe, nurturing environment. With respite care at Saunders House, we give you the time you need to recharge and refresh so that you can continue providing the best care to your loved one in the future.

We encourage you to contact us with any questions you might have, as well as to stay current on a variety of other senior health and care topics by viewing the latest articles on our website. 

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “Summer Vacation: 7 Tips for Traveling with Your Loved One with Dementia,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing carerestorative carememory carerespite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our Care Traditions Memory Care program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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