Holiday Travel Tips for Families and Caregivers

As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to traveling to visit friends and family. Many families ask me about traveling with family members with dementia. Here are my top tips.

Plan your trip carefully

If flying, give yourself extra time at the airport to avoid stress. The airports can be busy and overwhelming over the holidays, so pace yourselves.

Give yourself a cushion of time for extra bathroom and meal breaks. Consider asking for a wheelchair (even if your companion can walk). With a wheelchair, you may be able to get closer to the front of the TSA security line, thus reducing stress for both of you.

Tell your hostess and host about your situation

Close friends and family members such as daughters and sons will be able to tell that your companion is having memory trouble.

It can be very stressful for them if they don’t understand the situation. They can be supportive of you if they know about the dementia.

Give them tips on how to engage with your family member, such as, “Don’t ask mom questions, that is stressful for her.”

Stay on schedule.

If you can, try to keep on your home schedule and get plenty of sleep.

Be mindful of risks

Because dementia affects memory, a “familiar” setting, such as a relative’s home, may no longer be recognizable to your family member.  Don’t assume they know where the bathroom is, or how to find the dining room.  Orient them to the home and make sure the home is secure at night so they don’t wander outside. Consider using a tracking device in case your family member gets lost.

Being in an unfamiliar environment also increases the risk of falls.  Keep clutter to a minimum, watch out for animal friends, be careful in the bathroom.

Bring items that are comforting with you

Does your family member have a favorite photo book? A favorite shirt? Or even a doll?  If so, bring that with you.

Plan for time to re-adjust back home

You may be looking forward to getting home so you can relax, but often the return can be stressful, too.

Ask friends to make a casserole for you, turn the lights on and turn up the heat in your house so it feels welcoming to both of you when you return.

Plan time to rest when you return. This would be a good time to ask others for help so you can take a break.

Cancel when necessary

If the trip feels too stressful for you, cancel it. Your gut feeling is probably right.

Ask your family member’s health care provider to help with the decision or support. Sometimes advice or a letter from the provider can smooth hard feelings when you have to cancel.

Remember, pace yourself, get plenty of rest, and prepare for a pleasant homecoming.

For more guidance, or to review these tips, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website: www.alz.org or call their helpline: 1-800-272-3900.

Contact the Layton Center for research studies that family caregivers can participate in: 503-494-7647 or adresearch@ohsu.edu.

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