When traveling with seniors, all you need is a little extra preparation so that you and your loved ones can vacation in comfort—and worry-free.
Travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences in our lifetime, whether the goal is to see the world or to visit long-distance friends and family. However, when we travel with our elderly loved ones, we may be faced with challenges we don’t anticipate—issues that simply aren’t there when traveling on our own. Our loved one may not be mobile without a wheelchair, or they may have a specific health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or heart problems; any of these can make vacationing much more complex, regardless of whether you’re traveling by plane, cruise ship, or your own family car.
As with any other vacation, preparation is key: plan ahead for some of the most common senior travel needs so that you and your family will be able to enjoy a hassle-free trip that’s memorable for the right reasons.
1. Consult with a doctor for travel approval and recommendations.
The all-important first step is making sure your loved one is cleared for travel by his or her primary care doctor, especially if you’re accommodating a health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure the chosen destination is appropriate to your parent’s limitations, and ask the doctor for specific travel tips as well as any necessary vaccinations or extra medications.
2. Arrange special services ahead of time.
If your loved one needs a wheelchair at the airport, advance boarding of the airplane or train, or special seating in a disabled row or near a restroom, get in touch with the airline personnel or travel company to make sure these are available upon arrival. Remember the TSA security checkpoints, too: be aware of any surgical implants that might set off metal detectors, and wear easy-to-remove shoes. Contact the airline in advance to arrange for special screening if your loved one has disabilities or special needs, and contact hotels to check on things like shower bars and accessible rooms.
3. Research medical facilities at your destination.
Especially if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar area, make sure you know where the nearest hospitals and care centers are, in case of emergency, suggests the New York Times New Old Age blog. Bring contact details for your own doctors, too, and any necessary insurance information.
4. Prepare all necessary documentation and identification.
First, make sure travel documentation is in order: passports, if needed, as well as driver’s license, travel tickets and itineraries—and make multiple copies. You’ll also want to pack medical documentation: Medicare and insurance cards (and photocopies) as well as any prescriptions or physician’s statements. The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests wearable identification for loved ones with dementia: an ID bracelet or wearable GPS unit, for example.
5. Make sure your loved one always has a way to contact you.
Providing your loved one with a calling card or a prepaid cell phone, if they don’t already have one, is an ideal way to make sure they can get in touch with you at all times. Make sure your phone number is programmed in. If your loved one has cognitive impairment, you may want to put your name and phone number on an ID bracelet. Carry a photo of your loved one with you in case you get separated and need help to find them.
6. Pack essential items in a bag that’s easily accessible.
Make sure you have essentials close at hand: an ample supply of necessary medication, important documents and phone numbers, favorite snacks or drinks, a deck of cards or other entertainment, a light sweater, a hat, sunscreen, a travel pillow. These should be kept in a carry-on bag, or a tote that’s readily available inside the car rather than locked away in the trunk.
7. Pack as lightly as possible.
This is particularly important if you are traveling with a loved one who needs special care and assistance. “Less in your hands will help give you more attention to focus on your care recipient,” says the Family Caregiver Alliance.
8. When possible, maintain a predictable daily routine.
Maintaining a routine or a predictable schedule is critical to reducing stress and anxiety in a loved one with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. Keeping mealtimes, medication schedules, and rest times as consistent as possible—and planning flights and car trips accordingly—will lower the risk of agitation.
9. Plan for breaks and downtime in the schedule.
There’s nothing less relaxing during a vacation than having to rush from place to place, and quiet time is even more important if you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia symptoms. Plan to arrive for flights earlier than you normally would, to make sure your loved one has plenty of time to get settled. On road trips, plan to take plenty of breaks, whether it’s taking the time for a full meal or simply a short restroom break.
10. Plan a schedule that accommodates your loved one’s needs.
Alzheimer’s patients tend not to do well traveling in the late evening or at night because of Sundowners’ syndrome, so take this into account when making your travel plans. Travel when your loved one is mostly likely to do well, and both you and your family will get much more out of the experience.
Let us know your indispensable travel tips—leave a comment below.