Caregiver’s Guide to Traveling with Dementia

Traveling with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can seem daunting; especially if new environments, unfamiliar surroundings, or changes to daily routine, have already been a challenge for your family member. By keeping in mind the person’s special needs, having realistic expectations, and allowing for extra time to plan for the trip, a dementia diagnosis does not have to thwart your travel plans.

Memory loss or other medical conditions associated with early stages of dementia or late stage can impact a person’s ability to tolerate a road trip or air travel so it is a good idea, as the care partner, to review a travel itinerary and apply careful planning before embarking to new places with your older adult. First thing, you should determine if your loved one with a diagnosis of dementia is safe to travel.

5 signs that my dementia loved one can be a good travel companion

  1. Medical conditions are stable and manageable in everyday life.
  2. Unfamiliar places, large groups, busy places, or loud noises do not cause severe behavioral problems.
  3. There is a low risk of falls or other safety concerns such as wandering, delusions, or paranoia.
  4. Healthcare professionals have approved travel based on stage of dementia.
  5. The person can be easily supported without additional help.

If you determine that your loved one may be able to handle a trip away from home, there are important steps family caregivers can take to ensure peace of mind for everyone involved. Some of the same behavioral support techniques used for dementia patients in healthcare settings, as well as employed by staff members working with residents at St. John’s Home, can be applied by the at-home caregiver in travel scenarios.

Helpful tips to accommodate travel needs for people with dementia

  1. Purchase your loved one a medical identification bracelet (with emergency contact information on USB) in case of separation. Also bring all necessary important documents such as insurance cards.
  2. If you are traveling by air, check in advance with the transportation security administration (TSA) for counsel on how best to navigate security checkpoints with a person having dementia. Other air travel tips include: booking direct flights; limiting travel time; scheduling flights during the best time of day for your loved one; avoid tight connections if multiple flights are necessary; and alerting the on board flight attendant of your loved one’s special needs.
  3. Travel companies, if used, can inform you about options regarding travel insurance in the case of dementia.
  4. Take a test trip including some aspects of your travel details or a trial run of your trip with a single destination, providing for extra support to test tolerance for a potential stressful situation.
  5. Book a private room or adjoining hotel room if staying overnight. Alert hotel staff and tour operators (if applicable) of your loved one’s diagnosis in case of emergency.

The overall bottom line is that you know your loved one best. Trust your instincts on whether travel with proper preparation is appropriate for your loved one’s respective stage of dementia. And, if it is not the right time or proper circumstances, make a “Plan B.” Consider a “staycation,” including family gatherings in a familiar environment with ample opportunity for quiet time should challenging behaviors surface.