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Traveling with a Loved One Living with Dementia this Memorial Day Weekend? Follow These Seven Tips

In Advance of the Busiest Memorial Day Travel Weekend in Nearly 20 Years, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Offers Tips to Caregivers

With the busiest Memorial Day travel weekend in nearly two decades approaching—according to AAA, an estimated 43.8 million Americans are projected to travel between May 23 and 27—the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing important tips to families and friends traveling with someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia-related illness. 

“Taking a trip during Memorial Day Weekend can be a fun way to kick off the summer season for someone affected by dementia if caregivers make the proper preparations and adaptations,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “Whether traveling by car or mass transit, there are a few steps caregivers can follow to make traveling more comfortable, less stressful, and more enjoyable for their loved ones and themselves.”

When planning the trip:

  • Make sure travel is advisable. Someone in the early stages of dementia might still enjoy traveling, but as the disease progresses, it could become too overwhelming an experience. Depending on the trip’s length and/or the stage of the person’s illness, it may be best to consult with a physician to make sure travel is advisable.
  • Plan around the person’s abilities and routine. Plan the travel mode and timing of your trip so that it causes the least amount of anxiety and stress. Incorporate the person, their abilities, and needs when making arrangements. If they travel more easily at a specific time of day, try to plan accordingly. Small or unfamiliar changes can be overwhelming  for someone with dementia, so as much as possible, preserve the person’s routine. For example, if they normally eat around a certain time, build that into your itinerary. 
  • Avoid overscheduling. Scheduling many activities and experiences during a trip can be tempting; however, it could overstimulate someone living with dementia, potentially causing confusion, agitation, or anxiety. Be sure to build in downtime to allow the person to rest and recharge. Focus on spending quality time together rather than the number of sites, attractions, and activities. 
  • Stock up before leaving. Bring snacks, water, activities such as puzzles, and comfort items (i.e., a blanket or the person’s favorite sweater), as well as an extra set of comfortable clothing to be able to adapt to climate changes. Take important health and legal-related documentation, a list of current medications, and physician information with you. 

If traveling by car:

  • Build in break time. Take regular breaks on road trips for food, bathroom visits, and rest.

If traveling by mass transit:

  • Know the security procedures. Check in advance about the airport/train stations’ security screening procedures. This way, you can familiarize the person beforehand with what will happen at the checkpoint; this can reduce potential anxiety. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers assistance with the screening process to air travelers with certain medical conditions, including dementia-related illnesses; contact their TSA Cares Helpline at least 72 hours prior to your flight to learn more. 
  • Advise the airline. Let the airline know that you’re traveling with someone who has memory impairment and tell them about safety concerns and your loved one’s special needs.

Families and friends with questions about traveling with someone who has a dementia-related illness can speak with a licensed social worker through the AFA Helpline by phone (866-232-8484), text message (646-586-5283), or webchat (www.alzfdn.org). The Helpline is available seven days a week.

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