Sometimes, planning a vacation turns into a part-time job. Where to go, how to get there, avoiding crowds, budgeting, booking accommodations, packing – you get the idea right? You return from a busy vacation and realize you needed another week to make up for the stress of planning.
Now, imagine traveling with someone with dementia. Planning your vacation just went from a part-time job to feeling like a full-time job, accompanied by an abundance of worrying. The good news is that it doesn’t have to feel that way. There are many benefits and difficulties to consider when vacationing with someone who has dementia. Whether you’re planning a quick getaway weekend to see family or a week-long adventure of city-hopping, you can take steps to keep your vacation with a loved one who has dementia as worry-free as possible.
Consider Your Loved One’s Stages or Symptoms of Dementia
When deciding whether or not to travel with someone who has dementia, it’s especially important to take the time to consider their symptoms. Here are some questions to ask yourself about the person with dementia you’d like to travel with:
- Are they in the early stages of dementia or the later stages?
- Do they wander?
- Are they easily agitated?
- Do they have angry outbursts in unfamiliar situations?
- Are they bothered by noise or crowds?
- Have you traveled with them before?
Loved ones who are in the early stages of dementia often do well with routine and familiar settings. They may thrive on a sense of comfort and security. Taking that consistency out of the equation may lead to unexpected behaviors and speed bumps in your road-trip.
Be honest with yourself when considering their symptoms. It may be best to adjust your plans or spend time with them in an alternate way. Symptoms that may present travel challenges include:
- Agitation and anxiety in crowds or busy environments.
- Easily and often confused or disoriented (especially if in familiar or routine settings).
- Frequent falls or limited mobility.
- Delusional, paranoid, or verbally/physically aggressive behavior.
- Wandering or mentioning that they want to go home, even on short outings.
After evaluating their symptoms, take time to reflect on their safety while traveling. Remember that the traveler with dementia should not be left unattended or alone at any point during the trip. You can also use our safe traveling tips as a guide before taking off on your trip!
Consider the Environment
“Noisy” and “crowded” aren’t necessarily words you want to use to describe your vacation, but we all know that depending on where you’re heading, they might pop up into your travel plans. “Peaceful” and “relaxing” are the ideal vacation descriptors, right? It’s essential that you take time to consider the environment you’ll be spending your time in and whether or not it’ll foster that “peaceful” feeling for the traveler with dementia. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will it be busy?
- Will crowds make them anxious or difficult to keep an eye on them?
- Will they be so disoriented that they become afraid or stressed and how will they react to these feelings?
Maybe the destination is a vacation spot they’ve visited before and still have fond memories of. If that’s the case, traveling may provide opportunities to reminisce and share stories. Consider traveling to familiar locations, visiting areas close to home, or even taking a “staycation” to lessen the stress on the traveler with dementia, and on you, the caregiver.
If you’re headed somewhere new, but you think your travel companion will enjoy the trip and adjust to the change in routine, there are ways to ease their anxieties in the new vacation spot. Our suggestions include:
- Traveling with a family photo or two, or a keepsake that you can place in their room.
- Packing familiar blankets, pajamas, loafers, and the pillow they normally sleep with.
- Bringing an item that holds their attention like a puzzle or a music player.
In addition to the above, think about staying in a hotel instead of staying with relatives. Depending on the community or setting your loved one is living in, a hotel may feel a little more familiar and may allow them to better maintain a routine. A hotel may also provide a calm space away from family or groups that may cause confusion or distress. Wherever you decide to stay, make hotel staff or family aware of your travel concerns and notify them in advance of any special needs you may have.
Consider the Importance of the Vacation vs. the Level of Dementia
Maybe the family vacation full of roller coasters, tourist landmarks or crowded sporting events isn’t worth the planning and stress to have your loved one with dementia along for the ride. Perhaps the weekend wedding anniversary at the family farm is worth every bit of hassle to get them there. Consider how important these events might seem to the person with dementia before you decide to include them in your travel plans. Dementia can be unpredictable and traveling with dementia comes with risks. Getting your loved one to an important family event may be more important than a getaway for fun, but either way, consider the risks and whether they’re worth taking.
Consider Your Support System: Utilizing Dementia Caregiver Resources
Another consideration should be how much help you’ll have while traveling. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will you be taking care of your loved one on your own?
- Will you be traveling with family members who understand and can help?
- Are you traveling with another caregiver?
If you’re the only set of eyes, the only set of hands, and the sole caregiver on your trip, your travel experience may be very challenging. Consider bringing help into the picture. Another set of eyes and hands can be a major asset in a stressful moment.
Another benefit of traveling with support is having someone to confide in, vent to, or lean on when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Before traveling, it’s just as important to consider how you’re coping with their dementia symptoms as it is to consider their symptoms in general. If you find yourself struggling to cope with their symptoms or that you tend to feel burnt-out by their confusion, traveling without support may not be the best idea. At the very least, it certainly won’t leave you feeling relaxed at the end of your trip.
Consider a Staycation
So, you’ve considered the risks and benefits, and you decide that traveling with dementia might not be appropriate for you and your loved one. If traveling isn’t in the cards, consider a staycation. Maybe they don’t need to leave their community at all, other than a day-trip or outing. Some examples of staycation activities include:
- Visiting local landmarks
- Taking a drive through country roads
- Eating at a favorite restaurant
- Cooking favorite homemade recipes
- Watching old movies together
There are plenty of alternatives to traveling that will still provide that relaxed and peaceful feeling, for both parties, which is the ultimate goal. Remember in all of this, that a vacation is supposed to be both fun and relaxing while providing a chance to recharge. If you don’t think traveling with your loved one who has dementia will foster those feelings, consider other activities that will. If traveling is in the cards, don’t forget to download our traveling tips to make your trip as safe as possible.
As an administrator, consider our Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Manual as reference material for your families. Our manual discusses what to expect from the different stages of dementia, the importance of routine and structure, meaningful activities, and so much more.