Caregiving Tips for Traveling With Seniors


You don't have to cancel the annual family vacation just because a family member is now older. With a little planning, you can still get away and have an enjoyable time.

Registered nurse Renata Gelman, clinical manager for Partners in Care, an affiliate of The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, shared with her tips for planning a vacation with an elderly loved one.

Get Doctor Clearance

Consult with the elder's primary care physician before booking any travel to discuss these issues: Is the destination you've chosen appropriate for your parent's abilities and limitations? Do they need any special vaccinations? Are there medications or supplements to help if anxiety or another mental health arises? Get prescriptions for all your parent's medications and get them filled before you leave.

Pre-Plan Accommodations

If you're renting a car, a mini-van is a more easily accessible vehicle than a two-door car. If your parent has a wheelchair, walker or other mobility equipment, make sure it's going to fit in the vehicle you choose. If flying, request seat assignments in the rows designated for disabled travelers. If there is meal service aboard, advise the reservation system of any dietary needs. Make sure the airline and hotel can accommodate any assistive medical equipment your parent uses. If walking is difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place in the airport. When booking hotels, request a room on the first floor.

Scale Back

Be realistic about the amount of activity, walking and traveling your parent can do. Keep the trip simple. If your parent has limited mobility, renting a one-story lake-front cottage within driving distance will be more enjoyable than a whirlwind jaunt overseas, or a walking-intense trek to Disneyworld. Plan your itinerary carefully. Research each destination to ensure it can accommodate your elder's special needs. Allow plenty of time for rest and don't over-schedule.

Have Essentials On Hand

If your loved one is going to be sitting in a car or on a plane for extended periods, buy supportive stockings to prevent blood clots and numbness. Pack light clothes which can be layered. Take basic medical information everywhere you go, in case of emergency. Other essentials to have on hand at all times,especially in the summer heat, are a hat, sunscreen, snacks and most importantly, water. Elders get dehydrated quickly.

Traveling with Someone Who Has Dementia

If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer's disease, you may need to consider some additional precautions and preparations.

Stick to Their Routine

Knowing what to expect throughout the day is crucial for people with Alzheimer's or dementia. It reduces stress, anxiety and fear. Try to keep mealtimes, bedtimes and medication schedules as close to the home routine as possible. To minimize the confusion of being in a new environment, bring a few favorite objects to create a sense of home.


Before and during each activity, tell your loved one where you are going and what you will be doing. On the other hand, do not overload the person with complicated directions or too much information.

Find Serenity

Avoid very loud restaurants and places with a lot of people if the person is overly tired. Do not move too quickly or appear too hurried.

Know the Warning Signs

Learn to recognize warning signs of anxiety and agitation. If your loved one is becoming agitated, remove him or her from the environment. Find a quiet setting where you can be alone and let him or her calm down.

Watch the Clock

Sundowner's Syndrome increases fear and agitation just before dark. Get back to the room before the sun goes down. Lower the curtains and turn on lights, to lessen the drastic change from day to night.

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You are right, jacbec, it isn't much of a vacation for the caregiver. I have travelled with my now 86-y-o husband with dementia for nine years. Caregiving on the road is much harder than caregiving at home. I return exhausted and in need of a vacation myself!

Why bother? Here are my reasons -- they won't match every one else's.

1. It is good for my husband. His dementia specialist, an internationally-respected researcher at the Mayo Clinic, says "novelty-seeking experiences are therauputic." Stimulating the brain with new sights and sounds and experiences is good for reducing the dementia symptoms. This may not be true for all types of dementis (Hubby has LBD) and in all stages, but as long as it is ture for us, I'll continue to bother.
2. He enjoys it. Lord knows dementia has robbed him of many or the simple pleasures most of us take for granted. I want to continue to provide the pleasures that are still available to him.
3. I enjoy aspects of it, it spite of all the work it is. The Grand Canyon is spectacular and inspiring and awesome whether you are seeing it as a carefree tourist, the tour bus driver, or a harried caregiver. And the novelty is good for my brain, too!
4. Especially reenforced with a lot of photographs and souveniers, it is a mutual experience to talk about for months to come. It is something for Hubby to look forward to, it is stimulating to experience, and then it is something to re-experience by sharing photos and wearing the t-shirt!
5. Even though it is more work than staying at home, it is good to have a change of environment, no phone calls from work, no obligation to answer emails, no laundry to do, and no dishes to wash. It is work, but it is a different kind of work, and that is a good break from time to time.

And that is why I bother.

Hubby's dementia is progressing and I'm getting older, This isn't getting easier, but I'm still going to bother. For the vacation we're going on next week I've arranged for family members to drive us to and from our departure destination. A daughter is travelling with us, to help. We are not leaving the country. We'll sleep in the same place and eat our meals in the same dining room for the entire trip. We are taking a cruise around Lake Michigan! I'm printing up little business-size cards that say "Thank you for your patience. My husband/dad has Lewy Body Dementia," to help smooth over any small mishaps.

I suggest that caregivers not consider these trips a vacation, and that they also get respite time throughout the year. But as long as you are not disappointed that it isn't a vacation, it can be a rewarding experience worth bothering about.
I stopped doing the trips and vacations with my mom because they caused anxiety in her and were extremely stressful for me. Dementia, constant bathroom going, airport security and general frailty did not make for a pleasant trip. Instead we took day or half-day trips--to the ocean, park, museums, scenic drives.
I have traveled with relatives who have had Alzheimer's and who had physical ailments. I have always enjoyed it. Here is what worked for me.
(1) No planes or buses. We always chose the pleasures of train travel or renting an SUV for comfort. The only exception to this is when we traveled to Europe.
(2) Make plenty of pit stops to rest, use the bathroom, and move around.
(3) Limit hours on the road.
(4) Check into a comfortable hotel/motel and let the staff know in advance about the special needs. You'd be surprised at how helpful people can be including noticing if someone with Alzheimer's is on the loose.
(5) Use room service and take out to keep away from loud, confusing crowds.
(6) Visit places that interest the senior. My grandmother with Alzheimer's had a passion for gardens, fine paintings and opera. Naturally we included public gardens, art museums, and opera in vacations with her. I love these things too- because of her.
(7) Carry along plenty of clothing and supplies including medical supplies, insurance cards, bottled water, meds, copies of prescriptions, doctor phone #s, and every day needs such as adult diapers, lotions, etc.
(8) If the senior has favorite comfy robes, gowns, slippers, be sure to take them. A favorite pillow or cup? Take them too.
(9) Take a LOT of photos and make some warm memories. Be patient. How would you feel if you were in your loved one's place and had lost control of your body or life or ability to do what you want? Be kind.