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Travel: Taking Your Loved Ones With Dementia

Taking a vacation is exciting and the anticipation of visiting another place is all part of the experience. But for those traveling with a loved one with dementia the expectation of a wonderful time often gives way to concern and anxiety. However, according to Angelic Health Memory Care Coach Coordinator Brianna Kaminski CSW-CDP, with some planning you can reduce stress and increase the chance that you’ll have a nice vacation.

“As a care partner, you should be honest about how prepared you feel to travel with your loved one living with dementia,” advises Kaminski. “While traveling you will need to manage unexpected events and challenging behaviors, sometimes in public. You may face many stressful situations and lack of sleep. It’s important to have realistic expectations, be patient and flexible. Focus on the outcome of the trip like seeing a new place together or visiting with loved ones.”

If this is your first trip since your loved one has developed dementia, or if his or her behaviors or care needs have changed significantly since traveling last, it may be useful to do a trial run. Try to travel to familiar, stable, and well-ordered settings. Try to make the trip there as short and simple as possible.

“Practice by taking a short trip,” suggests Kaminski, “ideally using the same type of transportation planned for the longer trip.” If the person does not tolerate the shorter trip, you may want to reconsider or adjust your plans.

• Build flexibility into the travel plans to give the person time to adjust and rest as needed.

• Allow plenty of time for everything, from driving to the train station to navigating the airport.

• Try to travel during the person’s best time of day.

• Do not drive alone with a person who is agitated. Your safety, as well as theirs and that of other people using the roads, may be at risk.

• Take regular rest breaks. Check frequently to ensure that all basic needs are met (toileting, hydration, nutrition).

• Make sure the person is wearing comfortable clothes that allow for ease when using the toilet.

• Do not leave the person with dementia unsupervised, especially in new surroundings. There should be someone who is familiar and reassuring with your loved one at all times.

•Try to avoid crowded, busy, or loud places, especially if the person is tired.

Airport travel:

• Moving through an airport requires focus and attention, as the level of activity can be distracting, overwhelming and difficult to understand. The level of activity at airports and travel stations can be confusing or stressful to someone with dementia.

• If traveling through an unfamiliar airport, review a map of the facility to plan for distance between connecting flights, locations where security re-entry may be required and locate convenient locations such as restrooms.

• If walking is difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair or motorized cart so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place. Most airlines ask for at least 48 hours of notice.

• Even if the passenger does not require support for mobility, consider requesting wheelchair assistance to help with navigation through security checkpoints. This support may help expedite the process and reduce stress.

• While at the airport, ask what to expect and inform the TSA agent at the security checkpoint about the dementia diagnosis.

• Look for signs of distress and try to calm and reassure the person. Remove the person from the stressful setting, if possible, by sitting away from others, facing the windows of the planes—could be used for great conversation to redirect them.

• Inform the airline, travel, or hotel staff ahead of time of any special needs to make sure that they are prepared to assist you. Always ask for assistance; people cannot help you if they do not know that you need help.

• Avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections.

• Do not hesitate to ask for assistance from airport employees and in-flight crew.

• If the person needs help using the restroom, look for companion care bathrooms so you can more easily assist.

• Always stay with your travel companion.

At your destination: Be sure that your travel destination has a safe environment. Keep in mind the following:

• Working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.

• Non-slip surface in the shower or bathtub—do you need to bring items to ensure hygiene safety?

• Water temperature (faucets in new places may be confusing, so check to make sure the temperature is properly adjusted and assist).

• Adequate lighting in the hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms (take several nightlights to plug in just in case) Try to remove potential hazards and clutter (unplug or remove the coffee maker, hair dryer, etc).

Be aware of the risk of wandering that can be triggered by a change in the environment.

• Lock the door to the room and place a chair in front of it if possible.

• Consider using a portable door alarm or childproof doorknob cover.

• If there are two beds, sleep in the one closest to the door.

• Control access to car keys—keep them out of sight.

Visits to family and friends: Prepare friends or family members for the visit by explaining dementia and any changes it has caused. Go over any special needs and explain that the visit could be short or that you may need to change activities on short notice.

“It may be helpful to stay as close to your normal routine as possible,” suggests Kaminski. “For example, keep meal and bedtimes on a similar schedule to that followed at home.” Eating in may be a better choice than at a crowded restaurant.

Try to keep a sense of humor,” adds Kaminski, “remember this is a time to enjoy and laugh together and enjoy your time with your loved one.”

Angelic Health Memory Care offers a companion card template at You can print out, cut and keep with you to let others know to show patience with your loved one in any situation. For more on Angelic Health Memory Care call 844-948-0645.

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When packing for your getaway be sure to make copies of important documents for you and your loved one to take with you, including:

• Identification – ID card, birth certificate, passport

• A recent photo of the person with dementia

• Emergency contact information

• Doctors’ names and contact information (You may also want to know what medical facilities are at your destination.)

• List of current medications and dosages, COVID-19 vaccination cards, if applicable

• List of drug or food allergies

• Copies of legal papers (living will, advanced directives, power of attorney, etc.)

• Insurance information

• Travel itinerary

Have your loved one with dementia carry or wear identification (an ID bracelet). Consider marking their clothing with their name. Make sure that the following information is in their wallet or purse: ID, important contact information, and any medical conditions, including the type of dementia diagnosis.

Much like traveling with a young child, you should pack the following:

• Water, drinks, and snacks

• Activities to do while traveling and at the destination—crosswords, coloring, family pictures, brochures from the airport

• Favorite items: items that bring calmness to your loved one such as their favorite blanket, stuffed animal or fidget toy

• Medications (Consider consulting your doctor about medications for mood control, pain, stomach upset, diarrhea, or other temporary problems that might arise while traveling.)