Travel during the holidays can be a stressful experience even in the best of conditions. But it can be even more challenging if a travel partner has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. While the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care won’t be able to accompany you on your holiday journey, we will be happy to offer all sorts of encouragement and support, plus a variety of strategies to help you get to and from your destination with as minimal fuss as possible for your loved one, for you any fellow travelers.
If you’ve been dealing with this person’s declining condition, you’ve probably already tried to focus on key attributes like being flexible, trying to stay calm when circumstances change, and enjoying the moment – all of these can definitely come in handy due to the unpredictability of winter travel.
Air travelers can experience mechanical delays, weather delays or simple changed status of flights. Airports can also be confusing especially if there are connecting flights to contend with. Security screenings also can be difficult, especially for people who aren’t regular fliers who may not be as familiar with current procedures.
The stressful conditions can continue on the road, including traffic jams, potentially hazardous conditions if a snowstorm comes in, car trouble, or navigating an unfamiliar city.
Ultimately, as long as people are willing to go with the flow as much as possible, a holiday adventure can turn out to be satisfying for all and create wonderful memories. At their best, road trips can be fun adventures where you are able to spend extended time with a loved one. Plus, there’s always the possibility that someone’s health condition may decline in the future as their dementia progresses, making a trip like this less likely.
For those considering winter travel, here are some suggestions from hospice professionals from the Cedar Rapids area.
- Plan for the familiar. A trip to a family member or family friend a few hours away can be much more appealing than heading to a place that you have never been before or haven’t visited for years. This route can include recognizable details and known scenery, which can put everyone at ease vs. trying to navigate somewhere unknown or less known. Even a hotel they’ve been to before can be more reassuring than somewhere new.
- Minimize potential time crunches. If flying, arrive at the airport well ahead of the recommended check-in time which can reduce anxiety levels. If connecting flights are involved, include plenty of time, even several hours, to avoid concerns over possible delays. If you’re supposed to be somewhere for Christmas dinner, consider arriving at least a day ahead rather than rushing to hit a certain deadline.
- Share your itinerary. Minimize some of the uncertainty and potential confusion of the trip by providing the person with complete descriptions of where you are going, including flight information, addresses and emergency contacts. Your traveling partner will also have this documentation handy in case he or she gets separated and needs to ask for help.
- Be ready for anything. Airlines are notorious for canceling or delaying flights, requiring people to stay overnight or find a nearby hotel. Luggage can also be lost, so being prepared for these possibilities can include packing extra food, clothes, and medicine in carry-on bags. Some activities in the event of delays can also be useful.
- Alert staff. Hotel employees, airline personnel and flight crews can be discretely told about the passenger’s health condition. This can lead to access to amenities like a wheelchair or transportation through the concourse, early security screening, priority boarding or extra service. Hotel security staff can also keep an eye out for this person in case they accidentally get lost or wander in unfamiliar setting.
- Make sure the person is always accompanied. Other family members or traveling companions can take turns staying with the person, even in bathrooms. Airport staff can also advise where companion bathrooms can be found.
Searching for opportunities to reduce anxiety and keep everyone calm should be the goal of a trip. This may even require doing things different than you might do on your own, like paying more for a direct flight in the middle of the day rather than saving a few bucks on a red-eye flight with multiple stops. A changing schedule or requiring someone to be alert during different parts of the day than they’re used to could cause extra tension or anxiety.
Being prepared may also need to include staying at hotel vs. someone’s home. While being a houseguest is nice, the host may not be as familiar with Alzheimer’s or have a secure location.
This also means planning for worst-case scenarios, such as your companion getting separated or confused, even if you put extra effort into always keeping them in sight. Make sure he or she has an ID bracelet at the very least, but other documentation can also help.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care can provide other travel guidance to Cedar Rapids-area residents planning a winter trip especially if someone has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.