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Planning a Successful and Safe Trip with the Person with Dementia

Posted by on 8/4/2014
Family members may wonder if a vacation with the person with dementia is possible. Different people will respond differently, so starting with a one or two day outing might be best.  Also, following these tips can help promote a successful and safe vacation for all.

Traveling with the Person with Dementia

Familiar destinations
Consider visiting places the person with dementia is accustomed to visiting. The memories that will be triggered at a familiar place will give comfort and joy.  However, if the place is a crowded, noisy place, such as a casino, this may not apply.
Caregiver's expectations: Be realistic and flexible
You likely will not be able to go at the pace you may be used to, seeing many sites in a day. So set your expectations differently as you plan the trip.  Instead, you might try to have one focus to the day - i.e. the beach, the museum, etc. Also know that traveling with the person with dementia may not always go as planned. Be flexible and bring along portable activity items that can be used to re-direct energy when needed.

Avoid large crowds
Fairs and large family events may be too overwhelming. Visit places at off-times.  Or talk to people in small groups of 2-3 at a time, at large family gatherings.
Timing and routine
Consider traveling during the person's best time of day. Maintain routines as much as possible - meal times, sleep times, etc.

Anticipate needs of the person with dementia
Bring along a 'resource bag' of items you might just happen to need.  Items to consider include:
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Gum, if flying, to avoid pressure in the ears (use only if the person can chew it safely)
  • Items to keep hands busy, for example: playing cards to shuffle through on a lap tray, colored pencils with paper or adult coloring book, pictures.
  • Music the person enjoys to play in the car or through headphones
  • A sweater should the person become cold.  Have the person dress in layers so he or she can be at a comfortable temperature.
  • Use restrooms when you are near one.
Ensure safety
Do not leave the person with dementia alone in unfamiliar areas. He/she should have an identification bracelet. Keep the car doors locked to keep the person inside when necessary, such as waiting in traffic.  Walking in unfamiliar areas can be a nice time to hold hands!

Stay - cation
Even a 'stay-cation' can be enjoyable for the person with dementia.  Check out a park you have never visited; watch an outdoor music performance; fish from a local dock; visit local gardens or arboretum.  Just getting out for something different (as the person tolerates) can be beneficial for both the patient and the caregiver.

With some planning, vacation time can provide enjoyable moments and fun for the person with dementia and care-partners.  Happy Trails!

Portions of the article were adapted from Vacationing: Alzheimer's Association, New York City Chapter

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