Is travel still possible when someone has dementia?
When your older adult has dementia, it doesn’t automatically mean that they can’t travel with you. But it’s essential to honestly evaluate their symptoms before making a decision.
Even if someone is doing well in their familiar environment and daily routine, that doesn’t necessarily mean travel will go smoothly.
For example, wandering, agitation, or angry outbursts could increase when they’re out of their comfort zone. That’s because routine and being home create feelings of security and comfort. When that familiarity gets interrupted by travel, all bets are off.
Safety is always the top priority, both for your older adult and for you.
We share immediate signs that travel won’t be safe, 6 tips to help you figure out if a trip will be successful, how to safely test if travel will work, and what you can do if travel isn’t possible.
Important: A person with dementia should never travel alone. There are too many decisions to make, complex directions to follow, and strangers to interact with. They aren’t likely to make it safely to their destination. A trusted caregiver is needed to accompany them every step of the way.
Immediate signs that traveling with dementia isn’t safe
In general, these type of dementia symptoms mean that travel isn’t a safe option for your older adult:
- Later stage dementia
- Frequent disorientation, confusion, or agitation (even in familiar places)
- Getting upset or anxious in crowded or loud environments
- Wanting to go home while on short outings or visits
- Delusional, paranoid, or inappropriate behavior
- Physical or verbal aggression
- Sudden yelling, screaming, or crying
- Wandering behavior
- Problems managing incontinence
- High risk of falls
- Unstable medical conditions
6 tips for deciding if traveling with dementia will be successful
1. How advanced are your older adult’s dementia symptoms?
In the early stages of dementia, a person may still enjoy traveling. As the disease progresses, it might become too overwhelming.
It’s tougher to decide if travel will be a good idea in the middle stages of dementia. In this stage, it’s especially important to be realistic when assessing their abilities and challenges. Symptoms can come and go and may vary widely. It may be best to err on the side of caution.
If someone is in late-stage dementia, travel is usually not recommended. At this point, the person with dementia will likely be easily fatigued and overwhelmed by everyday activities, more vulnerable to illness or infection, or struggling with physical abilities like sitting, eating, or swallowing.
2. How well are you coping with their dementia symptoms?
An important consideration that’s often overlooked is how you’re doing.
Traveling with someone with dementia is tough, even for an experienced caregiver. The reality is that you’ll need to manage unexpected situations, challenging behaviors (sometimes in public), lack of sleep, and extra-stressful situations.
If you’re coping well with your older adult’s current dementia symptoms, that’s a good sign. But if you’re struggling to manage symptoms, feeling overwhelmed and burned out, or if you’re learning to deal with new symptoms, travel probably won’t be a good idea.
Adding to the current stress won’t improve quality of life for either of you, may make their symptoms temporarily worse, and would probably prevent both of you from enjoying the trip.
3. How do they do in crowded, loud, or confusing situations?
When you’re out with your older adult, how comfortable are they in public? If their behavior can become uncontrolled or extreme in places like restaurants, grocery stores, or shopping malls, travel is most likely not a good idea.
Think about their typical reaction to crowded, loud, or busy places. Does being in public settings make them upset, angry, overly tired, anxious, or scared? Or do they get upset when plans change suddenly?
4. Is this trip worth it?
Because you can’t predict what will happen, it’s usually a risk to travel with someone who has dementia. Think about how important it is for them to take the trip and whether it’s worth that risk.
For example, a significant family event that will be meaningful and memorable carries more weight than a trip just for fun.
5. Where are you going and how will you get there?
Another consideration is your travel destination. Familiar places, especially those your older adult visited often before they developed dementia, will be easier to adapt to. It will also be helpful to travel to a place where you can keep changes to their regular daily routine to a minimum.
Also think about how you would get to that location. Driving gives you more flexibility and control. Air travel is hectic and unpredictable, so it’s typically more difficult. And short, direct flights are always better than long flights or multiple transfers.
6. What support system do you have while traveling and at the destination?
Another factor that could influence your decision is how much help you’ll have while traveling and at your destination. If you’re taking care of your older adult by yourself throughout the entire trip, that’s very different than having other trusted, experienced caregivers along to help.
A staycation helps you test their reaction to travel
If you’re on the fence about taking your older adult on a trip, it may help to take a short vacation right in your hometown – a “staycation.”
For example, you could book a few nights at a local hotel, drive around for a few hours before going there, eat all your meals out, and sleep there.
Act like it’s a real vacation, far from home. This test lets you see firsthand how your older adult handles the change in environment and routine. If their symptoms get significantly worse, you can easily end the test trip and go home.
What to do if travel isn’t possible for your senior with dementia
Sometimes travel will be too overwhelming or exhausting for seniors with dementia. If that’s the case for your older adult, it’s best not to push them beyond their limits.
If your older adult can’t travel, technology can help them enjoy a significant event or visit with relatives. For example, if there’s a family wedding, arrange video chats so they can view the ceremony and talk with relatives. That way they still get to participate in the celebration.
Another thing to remember is that this doesn’t mean you can’t travel. To allow you to go on a trip and take a much-needed break, consider asking family to take over, hiring in-home caregivers, or arranging a short respite stay in an assisted living community that meets their needs.
Recommended for you:
- 6 Ways to Make It Easier for Caregivers to Take a Break
- When They Say No: 8 Ways to Introduce In-Home Care for Seniors
- Local Respite Care Services Give Caregivers a Break
By DailyCaring Editorial Team