We are just past the mid-point of summer but it’s still prime travel time. A family friend’s recent experience prompted me to examine and evaluate the idea of traveling with someone who has a dementia diagnosis. They were staying in a small-town South Carolina resort (about a 14 hour car drive from New Jersey.) Unfortunately, during the vacation, the person with dementia was hospitalized with pneumonia and was admitted to the ICU (intensive care unit) of a small hospital.
The wife of the patient with dementia was left alone when her adult kids returned to their homes since she did not bring a paid caregiver on the trip. The hospital staff were not equipped to handle his needs and did not provide adequate support or an appropriate plan of care. Their disappointing experience was a harsh reminder of the challenges of traveling with someone who has dementia, what can happen, and why being prepared with a plan is imperative.
Families often plan “one last big trip” with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Here are tips to make this trip as stress-free as possible:
- Bring copies of all legal paperwork (advance directives, POA)
- Bring insurance cards and a list of medications
- Learn the area ahead of time (local hospitals, pharmacies, urgent cares)
- Place a bracelet on your loved one that identifies them, the emergency contact and diagnosis. Enrolling your loved one in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return program (www.alz.org) is a great idea.
- Be sure to let your loved one’s regular doctor know you are going on vacation and communicate with your provider if there is a hospitalization
As a caregiver, consider the following for yourself:
- Carry an identification card stating you are a caregiver of someone with dementia and who to contact in the event of an emergency
- Have the name, location and phone number of where you are staying on vacation on your person
- If you can, bring along a companion/caregiver to assist with the travel and trip
If you implement these tips, your trip is more likely to be less stressful and fun for everyone, including your loved one with dementia. Safe travels!
Stephanie Goldstein, BSW, LBSW, has been in healthcare for over 15 years. Her experience includes both working directly with patients and as a manager in mental health and long term care. She is passionate about educating patients and families on options while promoting self-determination for those with complex physical, cognitive or mental health diagnoses. A frequent guest lecturer for Johns Hopkins University’s Certificate on Aging program, she also loves teaching professionals about best practices in working with older generations.