Traveling with Dementia

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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.Jim Vic Wyoming 0615

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.
  • Childproof 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.

Bon voyage!

11 Responses

  1. Claire Suter

    This was such a lovely hopeful entry! I am always amazed by everything you do!

  2. Bill Smith

    Vicki,
    These posts continue to be a personal encouragement to me. I have always appreciated travel and think it is great therapy, and the fact that you can still do this together is inspirational. I am uplifted by your thoughtful and caring insight. I love that last line – “enjoy what your loved one can do rather than focus on what they can’t do.” May God continue to bless you and Jim “on the road!”

  3. Nancy Fisher

    Another great blog share. We had a family member visit with us at Thanksgiving and she has dementia. Her husband followed many of the same tips you describe. I had to keep in mind to listen and talk to her. I do think they had a nice visit to NC even though her caregiver (husband) was worried about traveling with her. It was a blessing to see them and better understand what they are going through. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are helping so many!

  4. Malia Kline

    Your insights and can-do attitude continue to be so inspiring. Great post!

  5. Zeta Pittman

    Your blog is so helpful and provides such hope. Thank you.

  6. Jody Ballard

    This article is well written and should be made available for people who have special needs. Your experience would be so encouraging. Keep it up and perhaps submit it to appropriate publications

  7. Carolyn Mayer

    Vic, I thought I knew you before this happened to Jim but you are not the person you used to be. You are amazing how you take care of him and focus on everything positive and good not the negative. I remember a conversation we had one time about suffering and testing. I’ll bet you see now what I was telling you. Faith has to be tested to know the strength of it. A tree is best measured when it is down. You are an inspiration to many. You need to write for a magazine. Psalm 91 Love and Prayers

  8. Ken Samuelson Sr.

    I am Ruth’s father in law and in a similar situation. Trying to keep as much normalcy about everything I do daily with my sweet wife. Eating in and out, visiting the family and going everywhere together just as we always have done, anly with much more planning and effort required. I can relate to all you write and thank you for the effort to keep us informed about your journey as it mirrors mine in many ways.
    Ken Samuelson

  9. Vicki,

    You are a wonderful sister and wife. What I have learned from traveling with Jim is, the mornings are great, it’s okay to just hang out at the house in the middle of the day, and dinners at home are pretty awesome. And from point three, those of us with loud voices learn to keep it on the down low ;). I love you and your strong energy and am so happy to have you as a sister. Keep writing.

  10. Estella Walker

    Vicki, you and Jim look like two cool world travelers in this photo:)
    Thank you for these very useful and important tips. I am going to share this issue with my loved ones so that they too can regain hope of traveling with their loved one with this perplexing condition. I will continue to pray for you and Jim, God bless you both.

  11. Thank you for allowing others to see life does go on. Long term illness can often rob you of joy, but I am believing now that that to is a choice. Thank you for your bravery in adversity.

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