by Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care
Traveling can be an extra source of stress for caregivers and seniors alike. The idea of handling a loved one’s limited mobility, chronic illness, depression or other health conditions while away from home can lead to anxiety rather than anticipation. To ensure everyone feels prepared, discuss the hypothetical itinerary before booking and acknowledge any concerns your loved one may have. Addressing the unknowns in your travel plans will help everyone feel more confident and replace apprehension with excitement.
Attention to detail is crucial when planning a vacation with a senior, whether it’s a short road trip, a cruise or a cross-country flight. Think about accessibility features you will need, how much luggage and medical equipment you’ll be traveling with, and special needs that must be met throughout the trip. The easiest way to anticipate your loved one’s needs is to take detailed notes while going through their daily routine at home and while on outings. Take these factors into account when booking flights, rental cars, hotel rooms and scheduling activities. Be sure to request the accommodations you know you will need and inquire about additional accessibility features that the airline, hotel or other businesses offer that may come in handy. For example, you may want to book hotel rooms that are located on the first floor and/or are adjoining, arrange for specialty meals that meet your loved one’s dietary restrictions, or reserve aisle seats near the lavatories on the airplane for easier toileting.
Always bring extra doses of medication and copies of your loved one’s prescriptions when traveling. If you will be flying, ensure each prescription is in its original container and double-check with your loved one’s doctor to see if you will need any special documentation for traveling with certain medications.
Replicating your loved one’s routine and surroundings as closely as possible will help them feel more relaxed while in an unfamiliar environment, especially if they have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Bring a few of their favorite objects and comforts from home, such as photographs, a cherished blanket or a few books. These items will make your loved one feel more at ease in their new surroundings.
Remember, it’s your vacation, too. Make sure to set a schedule for your family members to pitch in with caregiving. Alternate planning activities as a family with time for each of you to get a break from providing care. For example, if your loved one tends to nap in the afternoons or retire early in the evenings, trade off caregiving duties with other family members so that each of you has some time to explore or relax.
Bring a comprehensive emergency checklist in case your loved one experiences a medical setback while traveling. This should include a complete prescriptions list, physician contact information, pertinent medical history, and any contact info for family and friends.
With careful planning and some minor accommodations, many seniors can still participate in family vacations. However, travel—especially demanding, long-distance trips—is typically inadvisable for seniors who are in poor health or the end stages of dementia. Families, particularly those with young children, should make the most of their limited opportunities for vacations and precious bonding time. If an aging or ill loved one cannot feasibly participate, there are several kinds of respite care that can enable you to get away and feel confident that they’re receiving quality care in your absence.