Every fall, teachers ask, “what did you do on your summer vacation?” Summer vacations are a rich tradition for many people. But as our loved one ages, memories of family trips — and the hopes of them continuing — seem to fade. As July turns the page into August, summer’s end appears too soon on the horizon, especially if what used to be your favorite family vacation is no longer do-able. Or is it? How do you vacation with — or do you need a respite from — your loved one with dementia?
If you have a trip planned with a family member or friend with dementia, there are a few important tips that should be part of your vacation plan. With a bit of planning, your trip can still be one of recreation and enjoyment for everyone.
- Consider sticking to familiar destinations that require few changes in daily routine.
- Keep travel simple. Avoid elaborate sightseeing trips or complicated tours, which may cause anxiety and confusion.
- Travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia, much like the way a parent plans for a toddler’s nap or meals.
- Have a bag of essentials with you at all times that includes medications, your travel itinerary, emergency contact information, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks, and activities. Wouldn’t you do that for the younger traveler among you?
- If traveling by air, arrange for special accommodations such as a wheelchair escort through security and to the gate, and alert airline staff. Most airlines will work with you to accommodate special needs. Dementia is a “special need.” No shame here, ask for help!
- Prepare for wandering. Enroll in MedicAlert® or another 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with dementia that wander or who have a medical emergency.
- Carry a picture of your loved one with you or have one available on a mobile device.
- Create a business-style card that says, "The person I am traveling with has Alzheimer's. Please be patient.” Include your contact information on the backside.
- If visiting family or friends, prepare them by explaining dementia and any changes it may have caused.
Need respite instead? There is no shame in needing a vacation from your loved one and the day-in, day-out caregiving you provide. Respite care provides short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center. Don’t miss your vacation this summer — it will give you the energy to meet the coming challenges of fall and winter. For more information, visit: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-respite-care.
Beth Propp, RN is a Certified Master Trainer (CMT) for AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, CMT Lead Mentor and lives in Green Bay, WI with her husband Scott. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.