When an elderly family member is diagnosed with dementia, it doesn’t mean they have to be homebound immediately. They can travel with you as long as you keep a few important things in mind. The following are some basic tips for traveling with elderly parents who may or may not have dementia.

Long-distance trips with elderly

If you’re traveling more than 400 miles, consider flying. Riding in a car for long distances may make elderly family members’ joints stiff and test the limits of their bladder control. When flying, take advantage of skycabs (an airline employee who meets the elderly at the gate or ticketing counter with a wheelchair) most airlines offer for free to get your parent to and from the gate. Pack medication in the carry-on bag in case the luggage doesn’t arrive at the same time and place you do. This prevents having to skip doses and creating an unnecessary imbalance.

If you’re traveling a little closer to home or just choose to drive, schedule frequent stops to stretch your legs and allow for bathroom breaks. For the best results while traveling with elderly, drive a car that rides smoothly to prevent the added fatigue associated with excessive road vibration.

Whether you choose to fly or drive, do your best to schedule the travel around meals and naps. For elderly individuals with dementia, routine reduces stress and ensures proper nutrition and rest. When staying in a hotel or motel, have individuals with dementia related symptoms share a room with those who do not to prevent the likelihood of wandering away and becoming lost. Finally, be prepared for the confusion and sleep disruption that comes with time zone changes, especially for elderly with later stages of Alzheimer’s.

Other traveling tips for the elderly

One of the biggest challenges elderly loved ones can face while traveling is a disruption in routine. Make a conscious effort to eat nutritious meals rather than snacking on junk food throughout the trip. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine (shower, watch the news, read a book, etc.) before falling asleep. Do what you can to reduce the likelihood of wandering and sundowning by having the elderly share a hotel room with somebody or by putting safeguards in place (e.g. a bell on the doorknob as a makeshift alarm system).

Before leaving on your trip, do these two important things:

  1. Purchase some kind of medical alert bracelet for your elderly parent to wear that has their diagnosis and your contact information engraved on it. If you and your loved one become separated, this will help to get you reconnected in a much more timely manner.
  2. Help them pack. You don’t have to do all of the packing for them, but you might save yourself a few trips to the store if you supervise the packing process and make sure all the essentials are there.

Perhaps most importantly, have fun and make memories together. Listen to the stories you’ll wish you had paid better attention to when they’re gone.