Are We There Yet?

So you and your family have decided to take a trip— and one of your travel companions has Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While traveling with a person who has Alzheimer’s can be challenging, careful planning can lead to an enjoyable vacation for everyone.

It’s understandable why you might be hesitant to take a vacation, spend the holidays away from home, or attend a family reunion with a family member with AD. Behavior can be erratic, activities will revolve around his or her needs, and even when you’re on vacation, you will still be wearing the caregiver’s hat.

Granted, your trip will not be like others you’ve taken, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable—if you plan carefully and realistically. Consider these tips:

Time on Your Side

Regardless of where you are going and how you are getting there, don’t underestimate the importance of planning ahead. The more time you have to plan, the less likely your trip will crumble into a vacation nightmare.

Keep your travel plans simple and make sure family members understand your loved one’s condition, what to expect when spending time with him or her, and the details of your itinerary.

What is the best way for your loved one to travel—plane, train, or automobile? Which is the safest, most comfortable, and most expedient? Avoid traveling during busy times of the year, especially Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays.

If you are flying, notify the airline that you will be traveling with a cognitively impaired person. Some airlines offer discounts and special services to disabled travelers. Ask for details about security practices and policies. Reserve your seats—side by side—well in advance. And when making hotel reservations, let the staff know a cognitively impaired person will be staying with you.

Develop a contingency plan for when problems arise—and they will, so don’t be surprised—try to anticipate them and their solutions, and be flexible. Research alternative travel options and locate medical facilities at your destination.

Comfort Levels

Minimize changes to an AD person’s daily routine, including meals, activities, exercise and sleep. Avoid crowds, confusing situations, long sightseeing tours and drawn-out family functions. 

Visit places that are familiar to your loved one, especially ones he or she enjoyed before becoming a person with AD.

Keep activities and outings brief, simple and low-key to keep your loved one from feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

Have snacks, water and juice with you in transit. Food can often divert an AD person’s attention, and adequate hydration can help curb restlessness and irritability.

Bring activities that your loved one enjoys, such as browsing through magazines or a family photo album, coloring pictures, sorting cards, or listening to music with headphones.

Build in plenty of rest time. Designate a quiet area where your loved one can retreat when the rest of the family becomes a little rowdy.

If you are flying, take direct flights and use the restroom before boarding the plane.

When traveling by car, make regular stops so you aren’t cooped up for long periods of time.

Avoid traveling in the evening. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Seniors’ Health website recommends traveling early in the day since the symptoms of AD tend to worsen as the day progresses. 

Safety First

An unfamiliar environment can increase an AD sufferer’s propensity to wander. Have your loved one wear a lanyard with identification information or a medical identification bracelet in case you are separated.

NIH Seniors’ Health suggests dressing the person in brightly colored clothes and placing identification labels where possible — on shoes, backpacks, eyeglasses, etc.

Carry a photograph of your loved one and have him or her carry a picture of you with your name and phone number written on it.

NIH Seniors’ Health recommends packing necessities in a bag or waterproof container—change of clothes; shoes; spare eyeglasses; hearing-aid batteries; incontinence undergarments, wipes and lotions; a pillow, toy or something else the person can hold onto; plastic storage bags to hold medications and documents such as copies of legal (i.e. power of attorney, passports), medical, insurance and Social Security information; your itinerary; emergency contacts; and your physician’s name and phone number. If you are flying, carry these items with you rather than checking them.

Hold your loved one’s hand at all times and arrange for a companion to accompany him or her when you aren’t available.

Even though this is a vacation, you will be on the clock 24/7. If all of this is more than you can handle, look for a home care agency in the area to care for your loved one.

Finally, as difficult as this may sound, try to have a good time, keep your sense of humor, and keep in mind you and your family will cherish your time together.