Dementia is a collective term for a variety of symptoms associated with cognitive decline and brain disorders. Symptoms can include impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.(1) The difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s (other brain diseases) is that dementia is a general term for mental decline and Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with symptoms worsening over time with the rate at which the disease progresses varies.
No matter if you’re moving your parent or senior loved one to an assisted living or nursing facilities or closer to family, carefully weigh the pros and cons of traveling with a loved one with dementia. Depending on the state of your senior loved one and with the right preparation, traveling can still be possible and a pleasant experience for both parties.
If your senior loved one experiences more moderate or severe symptoms (such as, delusional behavior or is physical or verbal aggressive) or has a high risk of falling or an unstable medical condition it may be a better idea to discuss travel options with a professional transportation company. Travel may simply be too overwhelming for both parties and a professional transport company may be a safer option for travel.
When planning your upcoming travel plans, consider these factors:
- Can you travel safely?
- Will you and your senior loved one be comfortable for long distance travel?
- Do you have a support system available when you arrive?
- Is the destination a familiar one to your loved one?
- Will the trip be too disorientating for your loved one?
3 Helpful Tips for Traveling with Seniors with Dementia
If you decide you can make the trip safely, we have compiled 3 ways caregivers can reduce stress of traveling with a loved one who has dementia:
- Set realistic expectations to allow for extra time but try to keep traveling in blocks of 4 hours or less.
People with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s need stability and consistency. Depending on the level of dementia or Alzheimer’s stage, it will be easier to travel with someone who has a mild or early stage of cognitive decline. Creating a schedule that allows for extra time to get settled in to travel and for breaks during the trip. Always remember to stay patient, this will help maintain a less stressful trip for both parties. If you have a long distance trip planned, break the trip into 4 hour increments or have another caregiver present to help with bathroom breaks, activities, photos or books to help keep your senior loved one busy and entertained during the trip.
- Create a binder with emergency contacts and important documents with a medication list. ,
It is always a good idea to prepare for the worst. If something happens during the trip or if your senior is prone to wander. Your senior loved one should wear an ID medical bracelet (that also notes allergies and physician information) and their medications should be in a locked box taken with during the trip. If they do not like wearing a bracelet, tag their name and contact information on their clothing. If they carry a wallet, have an easy to identify card with your number, another emergency contact and a list of medical conditions, physician contact information and their current medication dosage in their wallet. Have a family meeting prior to the trip with a documented itinerary and the same emergency contact and medication list so all family members or other caregivers are prepared.
- Maintain a consistent environment as best as possible. surroundings as familiar as possible, potentially stay in a hotel instead of with relatives if for a short stay.
People with dementia or Alzheimer’s often have difficulty in new environments. Traveling to a new home will make it particularly difficult to keep the environment similar but it could help to take pictures of their current environment to set up their new room as close to their old room as possible. This can help with the transition. During the trip, try to keep their routine the same as much as you can to avoid confusion, lessen stress and always try to maintain your patients. Traveling long distances is stressful for anyone. Bring familiar items from home on your trip (i.e., blankets, pajamas and pillows). If you plan to stay in a hotel during the trip, be sure to make the hotel staff aware of any special needs in advance.
If you do not feel comfortable traveling with your senior loved one due to their diagnosis or level of cognitive decline or if you anticipate traveling will be especially difficult, consider hiring a medical transport service. Long distance non-emergency medical transportation professionals such as MedTransportCenter can provide air and ground transportation. We provide a traveling nurse, and two drivers to make sure your loved one will get to their destination safely and comfortably. We provide meals and a comfortable hospital grade bed with extra seating to allow a caregiver or small pet to accompany your loved one to maintain consistency. We take care of the travel plans so you can continue to focus your attention on your loved one during the trip.