Jim was never a big traveler. He liked staying at home. I always planned our trips and Jim would come along almost as a favor to me. And sometimes if I was visiting family and he knew I would be OK if he didn’t come, he would stay home. But when dementia entered our lives, things started to change. Jim’s desire to be with me was greater than his desire to stay home. So we actually started traveling more than we ever had before.
We planned a trip to the Virgin Islands after Christmas two years ago. Right before the trip I took Jim to the doctor for a routine visit. I told the doctor where we were going and he was very interested to learn more about it. “You’re not taking Jim, are you?” he asked. That seemed like a strange question. Of course I was taking Jim! When I told the doctor he said, “Well I guess he will be alright this time. But this may be the last trip.” The last trip? To me, Jim had many more trips in him. But as with all things related to dementia, I decided I just better wait and see.
Since that trip, there have been 12 more trips. We went back to the Virgin Islands, spent eight days in Wyoming visiting family, took four trips to the beach, attended out-of-town weddings and funerals, and spent miscellaneous long weekends with relatives. To be honest, these trips have required a lot of planning, and our sightseeing excursions have been very limited. But the fact that we can still get away is a blessing to me. While I am by no means a dementia travel expert, after a dozen trips I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to have a good vacation when your loved one has dementia.
after a dozen trips I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to have a good vacation when your loved one has dementia.
First, it is important to always remember that the dementia patient may find traveling frustrating and confusing. So as our doctor said, travel may not be possible. But if you think your loved one would enjoy a trip (or tolerate one so you can get away), here are some things to consider:
- Remember the medication. It can take the edge off – certainly when you fly or are in the car.
- Always have your bag of essentials, such as meds, snacks and something like a magazine that your loved one enjoys.
- Too much activity and noise can be very distressing. I try to visit restaurants and other public places during off hours.
- Consider taking a caregiver with you or enlist a family member. You need a break too!
- I find it best not to talk about the trip too far in advance. It can cause anxiety. I usually start talking about our trip two days before we leave.
- Travel in day light hours if at all possible. Many with dementia grow uncomfortable traveling in the dark when they don’t recognize their surroundings.
- If you are flying, and can afford it or have the points to upgrade, fly first class. That gives you the ability to obtain help quickly if needed and receive personalized attention.
- Child–proof door knobs can be helpful while traveling.
Enjoy what your loved one can do rather than focus on what they are not able to do.
Most of all: Have fun! Enjoy what your loved one can do rather than focus on what they are not able to do. Even though memory is fading, you can still enjoy the present and make memories for you and family members, including grandchildren.