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Making Travel More Comfortable for People Living with Dementia

The word “travel” evokes memories for everyone but can mean different things to different people. It could be a recollection of travelling to school on the bus, a trip to the seaside, or flying to exotic countries for longer holidays.


People travel for different reasons; for relaxation and pleasure, to experience a different culture, way of life or environment, to challenge themselves, to learn or to connect with friends and family living in another part of the country or world.


For many of us, it’s a mixture of these reasons and just because a person has a diagnosis of dementia, the reasons for travel don’t necessarily disappear. There are many people living with dementia who are active, living a relatively independent life, who still enjoy and are able to travel.


Too often people assume a dementia diagnosis means that they, or the person they are caring for, are no longer able to participate in things they previously did. Whilst contemplating travel with a person living with dementia may seem daunting, depending on the stage of dementia, with good planning and understanding of the person it may not be as challenging as it initially appears.

 

Considerations before travel

Dementia can pose some challenges and there are times where it may be less appropriate to travel or where a short local trip or staycation is more appropriate. It is also important for the caregiver travelling with someone with dementia to have realistic expectations around what the trip may look like and whether it is something they are confident they can cope with. 

Some of the travelling considerations are below:

  • Does the person manage independently at home, or do they require support with care needs? Is that provided by the person travelling with them or external carers? If so, what support will there be when travelling?

  • Is the person happier in a familiar place or do they become easily overwhelmed, disorientated, or agitated in different environments?

  • Is the person affected by changes to their routine?

  • Is the person happiest at home or do they ask to return home if they are taken out?

  • Does the person have mobility difficulties or is at high risk of falls?

  • Are any incontinence needs manageable when going out?

  • Does the person become quickly fatigued, are they prone to frequent infections or have additional medical needs that need to be monitored close to home?


Benefits of travelling with a person with dementia

A holiday can be a positive experience for both the carer and the person living with dementia. For those who have routinely enjoyed holidays, then it is something familiar to look forward to. Some of the benefits of travelling for a person living with dementia are:


  • Stimulation: Engaging in mental, social and physical stimulating activities is beneficial for everyone, but particularly for those living with dementia.

  • Reminiscence: Sometimes, rather than visiting new places, re-visiting places the person with dementia may have travelled to previously, offers familiarity and reminiscence opportunities. Often sensory experiences such as sounds, smells, tastes and sights of a particular place can prompt memories of previous happy holidays. It can also be helpful to visit places that may be important to the person’s culture and their history, or just visiting family or friends.

  • Creating memories: Experiencing new places and having time away together is important for both the care partner and the person living with dementia. Whilst dementia may mean they are unable to recall details of the trip, they will likely recall the feelings of enjoyment.

  • Wellbeing: For both the care partner and the person with dementia, a change of scene, relaxing and ideally spending time outdoors in nature are all positive benefits to wellbeing.


Tips for travelling with a person living with dementia

Planning:

  • If there is any uncertainty around the ability of the person to travel it might be an idea to plan a few short “test” trips, not too far from home, to assess their response to changing environments.

  • When deciding on where and how to travel, make sure the trip is planned so that the person’s regular routine is disrupted as little as possible. A familiar environment with a similar daily routine will be much less disruptive, making the trip more enjoyable for everyone.

  • Consider carefully how long the trip should be. Sometimes a few short trips can be much better than a longer trip for a person who may easily fatigue and find a long trip over-stimulating.

  • Try to ensure on any trip there is a good balance of rest and activity so that it is rewarding rather than overwhelming.


Planning the travel to and from the holiday destination is really important and it is best to keep it as simple as possible.

 

  • If flying, try to book direct flights and consider how the arrival and departure times fit with the usual routine. When booking flights, it is possible to let the airline know that the person traveling has dementia and requires assistance which allows faster security and boarding.

  • Driving is sometimes a good alternative if travelling in the UK or some parts of Europe. It provides familiarity and the ability to stop whenever appropriate and break up the journey if needed. Consider what the person prefers and what they are used to when booking travel.

 

When choosing accommodation think about what type of environments are most familiar to the person and always consider their safety first.

 

  • Try to speak to the hotel or accommodation owner before booking and request whatever is best suited to the person travelling, for example, an ensuite bathroom or a room close to the main reception area or in a quiet area. Let them know that you are booking for a person with dementia and let them know in advance any other medical conditions or allergies.

  • If the person has additional needs then ask for an accessible room which is fitted with appropriate safety handrails and other equipment.

  • There are several dementia friendly holiday companies who specialise in providing dementia-friendly accommodation (and activities) which may make travelling that little bit easier.

  • Whilst a catered holiday can be a luxury for a caregiver who is responsible for all the meals at home, it is worth trying to find flexible packages where there is still access to a kitchen, so that snacks and meals can be provided outside of regular mealtimes.

 

  • Think about what the person currently enjoys and what they may have enjoyed in the past when planning a trip. Whilst it can be tempting to try new things, there is no guarantee that the person will enjoy them, so have some trusted backup activities ready in case.

  • If it is practical, then bringing an additional carer or travelling with friends or family who can step in will enable the caregiver to enjoy some respite during the trip.


Practicalities:

  • Any medical concerns around travelling should be checked with a GP before booking a holiday.

  • It is important to ensure that adequate travel insurance is purchased and that it covers a diagnosis of dementia.

  • Ensure that all documents are up to date and that, as well as passport and insurance documents, you travel with an up-to-date medication list and any other important medical information.

  • A sunflower lanyard can be useful as it identifies the person as someone who may have a hidden disability and may need additional support. Wearing a medical ID bracelet is also useful.

  • When packing for a holiday, the person with dementia may need support as they may find decision making around what to pack difficult or be unaware of change of climates or what may be needed. Additionally, packing too far in advance may induce anxiety around the upcoming trip. It is important to support the person to be part of the process, rather than pack for them, perhaps try laying items out for them to pack the night before or morning of departure.  

  • Always have an emergency plan and contact numbers ready in case something unexpected happens.


Provided a trip is planned with a good understanding of the person with dementia and tailored to their needs then it is still possible to travel with dementia.


Sometimes a trip may need to be adapted to meet the person’s needs and sometimes this might mean shortening a trip or only traveling locally. 


Occasionally, if it is felt that travel might be too disorientating and difficult for the person then a staycation, a day trip or having family visit may be more appropriate.


If the person living with dementia can no longer travel, but a caregiver would still like to travel then you could consider alternatives such as family support or respite care to enable them to have some much needed time to rest.

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