Can a person who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia travel safely?

The simple answer is yes, with proper planning and precautions. However, this planning is vital and trips might need to be modified. When deciding if it is wise for someone with dementia to travel, it is important to weigh the pros and cons and consider the potential difficulties.

Why is travel problematic for someone with dementia? What should I expect if traveling with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or planning a trip for him/her?

Travel can be tiring and stressful for any of us. Routine is essential for a person with Alzheimer’s and even the most basic new experiences (or forgotten experiences that feel new and alien) can be overwhelming. Travel is unpredictable, making it full of potential pitfalls for the person with dementia and their caregivers. A person who has dementia is more sensitive to things like hunger, tiredness and discomfort. Communication can be difficult, which also means it might be hard to express this discomfort which then causes agitation or increased confusion. The person with Alzheimer’s has compromised complex thinking and problem-solving, skills needed to deal with travel.

For these reasons, it is most often best for the person with dementia to have a travel companion. A comforting presence can make all the difference and help deal with any problems that arise. In early stages of dementia, it may be possible for the person to travel alone with good planning. However, this should be assessed carefully. You can expect that the person with dementia may experience increased confusion or agitation and will tire easily. He or she will need reassurance and simple explanations of what is happening.

What precautions should I take when planning a trip for my elderly Mom who has Alzheimer’s disease?

Consider escorting her or having a family member or professional caregiver escort her. A professional caregiver for travel escort can be especially useful, even if you’re going along also, to help with physical needs (e.g. toileting) and ensure a smooth trip for everyone.

Determine the easiest way to travel and minimize layovers and length of the trip.

Pack more than the necessities. Bring along layers of clothing for temperature changes. Bring snacks and plenty of fluids (for flying, this may mean buying them at the airport after security, but buy extra). Bring medications and copies of a medication list. Have all your loved one’s doctors and other vital contact information handy. Bring activities/comfort items (music, games and movies, cards, knitting, blanket, neck pillow, slippers).

Know where to go for help (while traveling and when in your destination).

Talk to airlines about travel needs and accommodations (even if your loved one can walk, perhaps a wheelchair is necessary due to the length of walking and extra exhaustion from traveling).

Think through the details (and expect things may be worse than on a typical day). Will you need to help Mom to the toilet? What will happen if she has an unexpected episode of incontinence? How will you handle flight delays? Read more tips in our Senior Travel Tips article.

I’ve always wanted to take Dad on a trip to Europe (or we have a family reunion coming up). Is it wise given his dementia?

As we said, a person with dementia CAN travel. The question is SHOULD your loved one go on this particular trip? Assess the situation carefully and think about what he/she (or others) will get out of it versus the potential concerns. Maybe a modified version of the trip is better at this point. A long flight and overseas travel, especially where accessibility might be an issue, might not be the dream trip you want. Maybe a shorter cruise or a long weekend trip would be more appropriate. For family gatherings, consider the person’s current abilities and memory along with your desire to have him/her there. Could the family reunion be planned in Dad’s hometown this year? Could loved ones come and visit Mom since it will be difficult for her to get to the family event?

If you need help assessing whether travel is wise or planning how to make the trip go smoothly, our Senior Care Consultant is here to help! We can assess the situation and offer ideas, as well as arrange travel and a senior travel escort. Call us at 727-447-5845 or contact us online  for help with your senior travel needs, dementia care services and caregiver assistance!