Safe Summer Travel for Caregivers

Submitted by Rachel Harding, MSW
Social Worker, Alzheimer’s Family Services

As a caregiver, it may seem difficult to get away and even the thought of it may feel impossible. It can happen with proper planning and support; here are a few tips to help you along the way.

The first thing to determine is the best way to get there. Would it be best to fly or drive? Depending on your loved one’s stage in the disease process, one mode of travel may be more feasible than the other. Flying is, of course, much faster when you have a long way to go, but driving allows for frequent stops to get out and stretch your legs. Whether you choose to fly or to drive, here are five helpful ways to plan ahead.

 1. Start early in the day
If you are flying, book flights for the morning. Sometimes there are delays, and an early flight time is the best way to ensure that you will get there before dark. If you are driving, try to get a morning start when your loved one is most alert. Many Alzheimer’s patients experience sundowning in the early afternoon or as the sun begins to go down. Common symptoms of sundowning are increased confusion, disorientation, and agitation. Traveling earlier in the day increases the likelihood that your loved one will be in “good spirits.” If possible, book nonstop flights, but if it is not an option make sure you allow plenty of time between connections. This way you may casually make your way from each gate and will be able to stop for a meal or a restroom break.

2. Always stay together
Staying together can be difficult in a crowded, busy airport. Plan ahead and arrive at the airport early; then you will be less likely to be rushed and get separated. Even though everyone around you may be in a hurry, take your time and remain calm. Just in case you do get separated from your loved one, purchase an ID bracelet for them to wear at all times. It will help give you some peace of mind in the event of an emergency as well as help airport security find your loved one.

3. Keep a small bag full of you and your loved one’s necessities
Necessities are anything you or your loved one may need while traveling. If you are flying, these items should be placed in your carry on bag, and if you are driving keep this bag close to you at all times. Items in this bag should include you and your loved one’s medications, passports, and any legal documents such as a power of attorney and health insurance. It should also include one pair of pajamas, an extra outfit, travel size toiletries, an empty water bottle (usually you may fill it up once you pass through security), and some snacks. Other items you may want to include are a blanket in case one is not provided and some items to keep your loved one occupied such as puzzles or a family photo album. Baggage can always be delayed or lost, so in the event of such a situation you will be prepared. If you are driving, it will be helpful to have these items in a bag close to you rather than in the back where they are less accessible.

4. Keep your schedule as routine as possible
New situations often cause confusion for Alzheimer’s patients. Doing your best to wake up, have meals, and get to bed at your normal times will help lessen this confusion. Also, try to incorporate things from your home. Think about the five senses and how you may utilize all of them. If your loved one likes to listen to music at home, play this same music in the car or over headphones in the airplane. If you often use a specific room spray, make sure to bring it and spray it in the car or hotel. This familiar scent may remind your loved one of home and their “normal routine.” Taste is another sense that can bring comfort and remind them of home; try packing the snacks they love. You may not be able to bring everything, such as your dog or cat, but pack some pictures of their pet for them to touch and look at. Take out that blanket from home for them to touch as well as keep warm. While traveling, it can be very challenging to keep your schedule the same as when you are at home; but doing your best to stay in the routine of things and carrying with you some reminders of home may help lessen any anxiety you and your loved one may feel.

5. If your loved one cannot travel with you, schedule temporary, overnight respite care
It may not be possible for your loved one to fly or make a long drive. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s patients require a greater level of care and attention. As traveling is full of distractions, it may be impossible for you to provide this level of care in the midst of it all. If you decide it is best for your loved one to stay at home while you are away, many assisted living facilities offer temporary, overnight respite care. Feel free to contact assisted living facilities in your area to find out if they offer this service or you may also contact our office for more information.

Remember, safety is most important while traveling, and during this busy season of summer many people are going from here to there. These tips will hopefully make it go smoother. Do your best to plan ahead, stay calm, take your time, utilize respite, and enjoy your precious moments with family and friends. A break is always good and as a caregiver you definitely deserve one.

Sources:
Alzheimer’s Society Travelling and going on holiday.
Spencer Scott, P. (2012). How to handle holiday travel and celebration problems common to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias

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