Tips for caregivers travelling with an Alzheimer’s patient
Try to include the person you are caring for when making decisions about the destination, mode of travel, accommodations, and activities.
With careful planning and research, travelling to visit family and friends or going on vacation with someone living with Alzheimer’s disease can be possible.
The following tips will assist with some of the challenges of travelling with a senior or someone who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Clear your travel plans with the doctor
Travelling can be physically demanding, especially for an older person or an Alzheimer’s patient. The doctor can assess their physical condition and offer advice on how to cope with some of the stresses of travelling including medications, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and confusion.
Know what’s covered by your provincial health care plan
Provincial health care doesn’t cover all types of medical emergencies so you should consider getting additional travel medical insurance. This is especially true if you’re travelling abroad. You can purchase this supplemental insurance before every trip or once annually. This insurance may be offered for one person, a couple, or a family.
There’s even supplemental insurance specifically for snowbirds – a.k.a. seniors who travel from Canada to warmer climates for the winter months. Major banks, credit card companies, and of course insurance agencies sell many different types of travel insurance for every need. It is important to do your research and find the policy that provides the best coverage for the person in your care that will be travelling.
Include everyone in the decision-making
Try to include the person you are caring for when making decisions about the destination, mode of travel, accommodations, and activities. This will help them retain some independence, ensure that everyone has an activity to look forward to, and help you decide on how to map out the vacation from start to finish in advance.
Bring medications in original containers with labels
Be sure to pack a full supply of medications in the original containers, with the original labels on them. If you need to purchase more medication from the local pharmacy, the original labels will be a helpful reminder of what exactly is needed. This will also come in handy if you encounter a language barrier while travelling.
It’s a good idea to make a list of all medications and separate them into different suitcases – just in case your travel bags get lost en route to your destination. That way, at least the person in your care will have some medicine to tide them over until you can visit a pharmacy. You can also take about a week’s worth of extra medicine in your carry-on.
Take advantage of senior services and amenities
Free wheelchairs, electric vehicles, and priority seating are usually offered at the airport and on public transit so make use of them. Even if the person you’re taking care of can walk without assistance, a wheelchair can help prevent fatigue as you make your way from the check-in counter, through security, and to your gate. This can be tiring even for the average person!
Check the airport or train station’s website to see what services they provide for travelers with special needs. For example, Toronto Pearson International airport allows you to book your wheelchair or electric vehicle ahead of time to help you get around with comfort and ease.
Explore your options
Travelling with an Alzheimer’s patient can be as grand as a trip to a foreign country or as low-key as a weekend at the cottage. Do some research and you’ll be surprised at how many senior-friendly vacation options are available.
For instance, did you know that there are tour groups that are specifically geared towards seniors? This is a great opportunity for the senior with Alzheimer’s or dementia in your care to see the sights at their own pace and meet new friends.
If you’re travelling with people of different ages and you want to opt for a more general guided tour, contact the tour company ahead of time to ask if they can accommodate elderly participants. You can also inquire about whether the tour will include places that have senior-friendly amenities. Remember to take breaks throughout the day and be on the look-out for signs of fatigue.
Take it easy
Another travel tip is to scale back on the activities by scheduling “rest days” for the older person on the trip. On these days he or she can either remain at the hotel while you take in the local sights or you can pick activities that are more low key and closer to home. If you’re travelling in a group it can be helpful to let each person take turns keeping him or her company so that everyone has a chance to have a little down-time.
Can I travel with someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia?
Understandably, travelling with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia poses more challenges for caregivers but there are steps that you can take to make it happen.
As stated above, you should obtain medical clearance from their doctor to make sure that he or she is physically well enough to travel. Some airlines require advance notice so check the airline’s website to see what their requirements are for travelers with Alzheimer’s or persons who have other special needs.
It might be helpful to advise the staff at your hotel and tourist attractions that you plan on visiting of your situation so that they can make special accommodations, if necessary, when you visit.
Stick with the person’s regular routine when it comes to meal times, bed times, and medication administration times to reduce their stress, confusion, anxiety, or fear of being in an unfamiliar place. Bring a few of their beloved items, such as a blanket, photo, or pillow to give them a little comfort from home as they ease into their new surroundings.
Not knowing where you’re going or what you will be doing can naturally be stressful, especially to someone with Alzheimer’s. Be open with the person in your care about each activity and location on your itinerary before and during your visit but try not to overwhelm them with too many unnecessary details such as directions.
Warning signs to look for
It’s helpful, as caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s, to learn how to recognize the warning signs of anxiety and agitation, so you can take the necessary steps to remove the person from the situation (or avoid it altogether) that is causing such distress.
Loud restaurants and crowded places can add to the stress or anxiety of someone with Alzheimer’s, especially if they’re tired after a long day of seeing the sights. If you notice that the person you’re with is showing signs of distress, gently take him or her to a quiet setting in order to calm them down.
If the person you’re taking care of has Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may become more agitated, fearful, or sad just before dark. This is called Sundowner’s Syndrome. Just like the name suggests, a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia tends to experience changes in mood and/or behaviour just before dark.
It’s unknown what causes Sundowner’s Syndrome but the theory is that the symptoms have something to do with the onset of darkness. If the person you’re caring for experiences Sundowner’s, be sure to return to the hotel before the sun sets. You may want to close the drapes and turn on the lights to minimize the effects of transitioning from daytime to nighttime. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has more information about the symptoms and tips for dealing with Sundowner’s Syndrome.
Careful planning can help minimize the fuss and frustration for caregivers travelling with someone with Alzheimer’s and ensure that everyone has a great trip.
You can do all the prep work yourself or utilize a service like the Elizz Caregiver Coach to help you gather all of the information you need to plan the perfect getaway for you and the person you’re taking care of.
If you need more Alzheimer’s travel tips or additional information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, check out the resources at the Alzheimer Society Canada.
Powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Elizz is the place for all things caregiving in Canada offering caregiver support services as well as support for those in your care.
Still have a question? Call Elizz at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549).