As people conduct their holiday travel this year, planning and completing a long-distance trip can be more stressful for the more than 6 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s and their families. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Eastern North Carolina Chapter and Western Carolina Chapter are offering a number of easy tips to help ensure a safe and smooth trip when traveling with a person living with dementia.
From gifts to gatherings to getting there and back, the holidays can be overwhelming. For those living with Alzheimer’s or related dementias and their families, a little planning goes a long way. Holiday celebrations can create extra anxiety for someone living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, especially when plans depart from daily routines. While the symptoms of this progressive brain disease can sometimes make travel more difficult, it does not mean families can’t travel with a loved one with dementia and participate in holiday festivities.
“Living with dementia does not mean it’s necessary to stop participating in meaningful activities such as travel. However, it does require planning to ensure safety, comfort and enjoyment for everyone,” said Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter. “With limited time left with their loved ones, we want to help families navigate these challenges and provide meaningful and enjoyable occasions.”
Deciding to Travel
- Whether taking a short trip to see friends and family or traveling a far distance for vacation, it’s important to consider the difficulties and benefits of travel for a person with dementia. In the early stages of dementia, a person may still enjoy traveling. As the disease progresses, travel may become too overwhelming.
- When you take into account the needs, abilities, safety and preferences of the person with dementia, what’s the best mode of travel? Consider the following:
- Go with the option that provides the most comfort and the least anxiety.
- Stick with the familiar. Travel to known destinations that involve as few changes in daily routine as possible. Try to visit places that were familiar before the onset of dementia.
- Keep in mind that there may come a time when traveling is too disorienting or stressful for the person with dementia.
Tips for a Safe Trip
- Changes in the environment can trigger wandering. Even for a person in the early stages, new environments may be more difficult to navigate. When possible, avoid places that are highly congested, which can trigger disorientation and confusion. Provide supervision at all times; do not leave a person with dementia alone.
- Have a bag of essentials with you at all times that includes medications, your travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.
- Pack necessary medications, up-to-date medical information, a list of emergency contacts and photocopies of important legal documents.
- Create an itinerary that includes details about each destination. Give copies to emergency contacts at home. Keep a copy of your itinerary with you at all times.
- If you will be staying in a hotel, inform the staff ahead of time of your specific needs so they can be prepared to assist you.
- Travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia.
Documents to Take with You when Traveling
- Doctors’ names and contact information
- A list of current medications and dosages
- A list of food or drug allergies
- Names and contact information of friends and family members to call in case of an emergency
- Insurance information (policy number, member name)
- Traveling in airports requires plenty of focus and attention. At times, the level of activity can be distracting, overwhelming or difficult to understand for someone with dementia. If you are traveling by plane, keep the following in mind:
- Avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections. Ask about airport escort services that can help you get from place to place.
- Inform the airline and airport medical service department ahead of time of your needs to make sure they can help you. Most airlines will work with you to accommodate special needs.
- If appropriate, tell airport employees, screeners and in-flight crew members that you are traveling with someone who has dementia.
- Even if walking is not difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place.
- Allow for extra time.
Special Considerations During COVID-19
During COVID-19, some states and travel modes have special travel precautions in place to accommodate for the pandemic. This may mean proof of vaccination; safety protocols may have been added and must be adhered. It is important to check with state and travel agencies to make sure you have the latest information.
Help is available
For more tips and information regarding travel with a person living with dementia, visit alz.org/travel.
The holiday season is often a time when families come together. It may also be a time that extended family members notice cognitive changes in a loved one they don’t see regularly. For those who see concerning changes in a loved one, the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline — 800.272.3900 — remains a vital resource for individuals and families who have concerns about cognitive changes affecting someone they know.
Additional Facts and Figures: (alz.org/facts)
- Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
- More than six million Americans are living with the disease, including 180,000 North Carolina residents — a number estimated to grow to as many as 210,000 by year 2025.
- More than 11 million family and friends, including 358,000 in North Carolina, provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States.
- One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
About the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®.
About the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter:
The Eastern North Carolina Chapter provides patient and family services, information and referral, education, and advocacy in 51 eastern North Carolina counties. It offers opportunities to get involved and to make a difference, in addition to a variety of services including: a 24/7 Helpline, support groups, educational programs, and MedicAlert®. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, or the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter, visit alz.org/nc or call 800-272-3900. For the latest news and updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Christine John-Fuller, Alzheimer’s Association
980-498-7737 (office)/704-604-9639 (cell)