Travelling with a parent who has dementia
There are over 100 different types of diagnosable dementia, from Alzheimer’s to vascular dementia. Each individual will face differing symptoms which means their care will have to be tailored to meet their individual needs.
Despite the challenges, a holiday can be a rewarding experience for you and your parent as well as other family members. It may mean adapting a trip or choosing an accessible destination but the benefits can be just as precious for you as they are to your parent.
If you’re considering holidaying with your parent, here are five ways to help you travel with ease and have an experience for you all to treasure.
1. Speak to a healthcare provider
Your parent’s GP should have an idea of how they’ll cope with different modes of transport. Long-haul flights may not be suitable, but travelling within the UK by train on the other hand could be. It’s all about what your parent can manage and how able you feel to make them feel safe and secure. The key to a good trip is to work within those limits.
Their GP may prescribe certain medication temporarily, write a repeat prescription just in case your parent’s likely to run out during your time away or write a Fit for Travel note for an airline if needed.
They may also recommend more than one carer accompanies you on holiday to ensure your parent’s care needs are being met. This allows you both to enjoy the holiday without worrying about everyday caring tasks, alleviating the responsibility from your shoulders.
They key is good communication, and keeping those channels with your parent’s medical provider open before, during and after your holiday.
2. Chose accommodation wisely
Sara Wilcox, of Pathways through Dementia, suggests the unfamiliar can cause those with dementia to get easily disoriented. Waking up in a strange bed in a room they don’t recognise can be distressing, so staying with friends and relatives who live abroad can make a holiday less stressful – familiar faces to ease the transition and provide comfort.
Ensuring your relatives are aware of your parent’s needs before you visit can help them to prepare for their arrival and make arrangements for a more comfortable stay for the whole family.
If this isn’t possible choose a hotel that’s accommodating with staff who’re willing to go the extra mile or at the very least be discreet and sympathetic if there are difficulties. You can aim to do this before booking by asking what provisions they make for guests with mental health challenges as well as making them aware of the extent of your parent’s needs and the behaviours that staff could be met with. Having these conversations upfront can help to make the holiday run smoothly.
Leaving your parent alone for any length of time may lead to them wandering or perhaps forgetting where they are and what they’re doing there. On the other hand a shared hotel room isn’t always ideal. Your own respite time is important too, so an adjoining room which allows you to check on your parent from time to time can be a good compromise.
If your parent’s dementia causes them to be disorientated or lose control of their bladder it may be best to request additional sheets and a mattress protector just in case. A child-lock on the main access door to your parent’s can seem like an extreme precaution but could prove invaluable to prevent night time outings alone.
3. Prepare well in advance
Travel insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions such as dementia can be difficult to find, but specialist insurers will provide peace of mind in case anything were to happen while away.
Arranging a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if travelling within the EU is a must and provides low cost, or even free, healthcare but it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t a substitute for medical travel insurance. If possible it might be worth placing all travellers on one insurance policy for added simplicity, but you may get greater value by using different insurers for different members of the party.
Also plan a daily routine similar to one at home, eating and going to sleep at the same times as recurring patterns can help place a parent with dementia at ease even in a new environment.
Whenever you’re travelling or out on excursions, make a note of what your parent is wearing or perhaps suggest they have a personal alarm or mobile with them just in case you get separated. One family member should always stay with your parent so that they have a familiar face to guide them. This can be agreed ahead of time for days when you’re planning a day trip.
4. Create a packing checklist
As soon as your holiday is booked start creating a packing checklist, with each item of clothing and any extra belongings documented. Print off the list when it’s finished and put a copy in the suitcase and in any hand luggage. This will help you and your parent know what’s where when unpacking.
It may be wise to be on hand to help your parent pack to ensure they’ve got all the necessary prescriptions (enough to last for the duration of the holiday), medical documentation and mobility equipment. Often you can hire this type of equipment in other countries which may save you struggling with it as an extra hand luggage or checked item.
Also, label luggage with sturdy tags and keep a sheet of paper with everyone’s name and contact details inside in case luggage tags are lost or removed.
5. Manage your own expectations
It’s tempting to try to take a parent on a once-in-a-lifetime trip while they’re still able, but they simply might not be able to make such a long journey. Sara’s advice is to work within your parent’s limits, and choose activities you can both enjoy together given your parent’s dementia.
Weigh up the pros and cons of each destination, and talk to your parent to get an idea of what they feel they can manage and of course where they’d like to go. If you can’t go abroad think about hiring a house in the UK or choosing dementia-friendly tourism options nearby to your parent’s home.
Although easier said than done it’s important to be well-rested before the trip, and try not to spend too much time worrying about your parent’s wants and needs. When you arrive at your destination take time with your parent to have a cup of tea – or something a little stronger, depending on how smooth your transit has been! – and relax.
With good planning and preparation, working with a medical professional if needed as well as the hotel and transport provider, you can enjoy quality family time with your parent.
AllClear Travel is a specialist medical travel insurance provider for those with pre-existing medical conditions. AllClear believes everyone, regardless of age, deserves the right to travel.
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