Planning is generally the key to having a relaxing, enjoyable summer vacation with family.
When a senior loved one who will be a part of this year’s trip has Alzheimer’s disease, adult children are often unsure about how to best prepare for the getaway. Keeping them safe when they are out of their familiar environment is one of the biggest challenges for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Managing difficult behaviors such as agitation is another. We thought it would help to pull together ten of the best tips from our dementia care experts:
1. Be realistic in your expectations. You know your loved one’s limitations. If you are traveling by air, consider spending the extra money for a direct flight and try to book flights that are no longer than four hours in length. Also, don’t try to take the red eye or a 4:00 am flight. Starting the trip fatigued will only make caregiving on the go more difficult. If you are traveling by car, take rest breaks along the way. One word of caution is that if you are driving and your loved one gets restless and agitated, pull over until you are able to calm them down. You don’t want to risk them trying to escape from a moving car and being forced to stop them while you are driving on a busy, unfamiliar freeway.
2. Consider your vacation destination carefully. Is it possible to return to a vacation spot they are familiar with? Doing this can help avoid some of the agitation and stress a change in environment can create for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Consider enrolling in GPS tracking or Safe Return system. Taking someone who lives with dementia out of their environment can put them at greater risk for getting lost. If you are separated and their verbal abilities are impaired, it may be difficult for you to be reunited. Before you leave home, consider purchasing a mobile personal response system like eCare or eResponder. Both work off GPS technologies that make it easier to locate someone who is missing in real time. The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return and Comfort Zone programs are also good options for caregivers to consider.
4. Create an identification necklace for your loved one. It can be as simple as purchasing a badge holder and adding their identifying information to the pocket. Make sure it has their name, your name and cell, and at least one other family member who can be notified in the event of an emergency.
5. Prepare for the worst. Just in case you become separated during your vacation, create a wandering kit. Have digital photos of your senior loved one on your cell phone, as well as hard copies of the photo with a written description of them that you can easily access.These items can help emergency responders locate your family member faster.
6. Plan to take rest breaks. Sightseeing can present different challenges for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. The hustle and bustle of tourist attractions might increase their agitation.The same goes for having to wait in long lines. Build rest breaks in to your plans and try to avoid having sightseeing marathons.
7. Rest up before the trip. For many families, the days leading up to a vacation can be hectic and busy. Try to shield your loved one with Alzheimer’s from that frenzy. Instead, make sure they are adequately rested before you embark on this journey. Becoming overly tired can trigger agitation and difficult behaviors in those with dementia.
8. Arrange travel plans around their best and worst times of day. Caregivers generally get to know their loved one’s patterns. If their agitation gets worse around sundown, for example, try to plan your day so you are safely settled in your hotel room by then. Or if they are at their best during the early morning hours, try to plan the majority of your travel for those hours.
9. Bring their emergency medical information file. Don’t forget to plan for a medical emergency. That means bringing along their medical history, a list of prescriptions with dosages, current physicians and their contact information. For more information on how to organize your loved ones medical records read these helpful tips and tools.
10. Ask for special accommodations. Many of us are reluctant to ask for special treatment when we travel. When a loved one with Alzheimer’s travels with you, however, it can make all of the difference in keeping them safe and relaxed. Alert the airline ahead of time and they can arrange escort for getting your family to and from the gate. Instead of booking your hotel room online, personally speak with the hotel or reservation department manager when you book rooms. Explain the situation to them and ask if there is a room in a quieter location you might be able to reserve for your trip.
One final tip is to create a laminated card you carry with you that provides a quick explanation of your situation. When you arrive at restaurants or destinations on your trip, hand it to the host or greeter. That makes it easier than having to explain things over and over and potentially cause embarrassment for your loved one with Alzheimer’s.
The bottom line is that with preparation and planning, your entire family can enjoy a summer road trip together this year!