Traveling with a Dementia Patient Can be Trying


Charlie has been bugging me for several months to find a vacation spot for us to get away together. His first choice would have been another cruise to Alaska—he loved that place. I know a trip of that length is no longer feasible, given his failing health, so I opted for a mini vacation at a nearby lake instead. I made the reservations a few weeks in advance and talked it up to him as though we were going on an exciting expedition. He was looking forward to the trip with great anticipation, even though he couldn’t remember from one day to the next where it was we were planning to go.

On a Sunday morning, I packed up the car with Charlie, our suitcases and walking sticks, his walker, a cooler with his favorite wine, and some cheese and cracker snacks. We headed north to a lake about 30 miles from our home.

Our first stop was a quaint little gourmet restaurant for an elegant brunch. It was a bit of a challenge because we had to leave Charlie’s walker in the car and climb five steps to get into the old converted schoolhouse. Fortunately, we made it in and out with no accidents. I was feeling confident.

About 30 minutes later, we arrived at our destination: The Lake Morey Inn. I found a handicapped parking spot close to the entrance and unloaded Charlie and all of our gear with no problem. As (bad) luck would have it, our room was on the first floor, but it was some walking distance from the lobby. Charlie handled it quite well. The building had an elevator that took us to the lower-level lake front dining room for dinner—no issues there.

However, the problems began when I awoke around 1:00 a.m. to the sound of the hotel room door opening.

I sat up in bed to see Charlie, wearing only his skivvies and pushing his walker into the hallway. “What are you doing?” I hissed. He responded, “I have to get out of here,” displaying typical dementia confusion when confronted with a strange environment. I finally got him settled back in bed, only to have the same thing happen again about an hour later. That time he said he was looking for the bathroom.

I slept with one eye open for the rest of the night.

The next day, we left the inn to have lunch at a little diner in town. As soon as we stepped back into the hotel lobby, Charlie grabbed his backside and got a distressed look on his face. Yep, disaster!

Remember that long walk to our room? It suddenly seemed like it got a lot longer.

I got him cleaned up and the two of us spent a reasonably easy afternoon and evening together. Although we can no longer tee up on the beautiful golf course or paddle a canoe around the lake, we enjoyed sitting outside watching an eagle, some loons and a family of Canada geese. We capped off the day with a short drive to a four-star restaurant for dinner.

That night I wasn’t taking any chances, so I barricaded the door with a chair before retiring. Charlie tossed and turned for hours, as he had the night before. Around 2:00 a.m., he made one of his many trips to the bathroom. I awoke this time to the sound of him falling to the floor.

I’m not sure what caused the fall. I had left the light on in the bathroom to ensure he could see where he was going. Unfortunately, the result was a nasty brush burn the length of one arm. I got him back in bed and he finally settled down for the night.

The next day, I drove home on three hours of sleep without further mishaps. But, as you can see, traveling with a dementia patient has its own problems. In spite of all the upsets, Charlie had a wonderful time. I, at least, got a reprieve from cooking, if none of my other caregiving duties.

Would I do it again? Probably not. It just isn’t worth the hassle. I’m just glad I kept the traveling time short and sweet. Can you imagine two weeks of that via plane, ship and automobile?

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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Oh my - reading this is like deja vue. My father wanted to go to the Special Forces Association Convention this past year. I thought (at the time it originally came up) that it would be good for him since his long term memory is good, and that he could re-connect with his buddies from Viet Nam. So I booked the trip a year in advance to take him, mom and myself for one week. As you shared, he asked about it daily - when is it? have you booked it? - sometimes he'd ask several times day. About a month before the Convention, I called and changed our reservation to make it a long weekend instead of a week, because I realized Mom and I would not be able to handle a week. My mother's sister lived in the same town as the convention, so she was able to take a break in the day time to visit with her. I followed dad around during the day, and mom gave me a break in the late afternoon, then it would take both of us to get him to settle down enough at night to go to sleep. It was a nightmare. He had a great time though -- although a couple of weeks after we got home, he asked me ... when is the convention? LOL ooops - I forgot his short term memory no longer works when I had the bright idea to take him to begin with. Will not repeat that mistake again! Today I just arrange Saturday outings to places within a 2 hr drive. We go to the same places every month cuz he doesn't remember we had already been. He always enjoys the time, and hopefully it'll help him to keep remembering me.
What a great article. You sound like an amazing caregiver. Unfortunately the change in locale and routine can be so hard on someone with dementia. There is still that part of the mind though that wants to be able to do things like travel.
What a great article Marlis. It's nice that you can still go out to eat together! My mother is currently residing in a nursing home in WY and we're going to bring her home (East coast) in the next couple of months. I'm not looking forward to that trip. She has brain damage, but the behavior is very similar to dementia/alzheimers. No short-term memory, spotty long-term memory and aggressive behavior. I cringe at the thought of the air travel, but hopefully with some good sedatives it won't be too harrowing.