Caregiving Tips for Traveling With Seniors


You don’t have to cancel the annual family vacation just because your loved one is getting older. With some careful planning, you can still get away and have an enjoyable time.

Renata Gelman, BSN, RN, clinical manager for Partners in Care, an affiliate of The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, shares her best 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 plans to discuss the following issues:

  • Are the method(s) of travel and destination(s) you’ve chosen appropriate for the senior’s abilities and limitations?
  • Do they need any special vaccinations?
  • Can the doctor prescribe a medication or supplement to help with anxiety or other behavioral issues that might arise?
  • Does the doctor have any additional suggestions or concerns that you should be prepared for?

Be sure to get prescriptions for all your loved one’s medications and fill them before you leave.

Pre-Plan Accommodations

If you’re using a car as your main mode of transportation, either to get to your destination(s) or to get around once you arrive there, consider renting a larger, more comfortable model. For example, a mini-van is a more accessible vehicle than a two-door car. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, walker or other mobility aids and medical equipment, make sure it will fit in the vehicle you choose.
If you plan to fly, request seat assignments in the rows designated for disabled travelers and arrange for assistance getting on and off the plane and navigating the airport, if necessary. If there is a meal service aboard the flight, advise the reservation system of any special dietary needs. Make sure the airline can accommodate any assistive medical equipment your loved one uses, such as a portable oxygen concentrator.
When booking hotels, request an accessible room. These rooms are generally located on the first floor and have improved accessibility features, such as wider doorways and stepless showers. Ask about additional amenities that the property may offer, like shower chairs for easy bathing and alarm clocks and telephones for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Scale Back

Be realistic about the amount of activity, walking and traveling your loved one is capable of. Keep your plans flexible to accommodate how they are feeling each day. If your loved one has limited mobility, renting a one-story lake-front cottage within driving distance of home will be more enjoyable than a whirlwind jaunt overseas or a trip to a large park that involves a great deal of walking.
Research each destination and activity carefully to ensure it can accommodate your elder’s special needs. In addition to mobility and accessibility, be sure to take their stamina and energy levels into account. Travel and excitement can wear on everyone after a while, so allow plenty of time for rest between activities, and don’t make the trip too long overall.

Have Essentials on Hand

If your loved one does not have vascular disease and is going to be sitting in a car or on a plane for extended periods, consider buying supportive stockings to prevent blood clots and numbness in the legs. Pack light clothes that can be layered. Take basic medical information everywhere you go, in case of an emergency. This includes the doctor’s contact information, insurance information, a copy of your medical power of attorney form, and all prescription information. Other essentials to have on hand at all times are medications, snacks, incontinence supplies, if necessary, and most importantly, water. Elders can get dehydrated quickly.

Traveling with Someone Who Has Dementia

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, 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 dementia. It reduces stress, anxiety and fear, but it is often difficult for them to remember new plans. Because of this, try to keep mealtimes, bedtimes and medication schedules as close to their home routine as possible. To minimize the confusion of being in a new environment, bring along a few familiar objects and parts of their routine to create a sense of home, such as a cozy blanket, their favorite scented bath products or a recording of a favorite movie or television show.


Before and during each activity, tell your loved one where you are going and what you will be doing. Do not overload them with information, though. Complicated directions, people’s names and other extraneous details may contribute to confusion and agitation before you even get there.

Provide Sensitivity and Serenity

When planning activities, avoid very loud places and those with lots of people if your loved one does not do well with noise/crowds or is overly tired. Be very sensitive to the warning signs of anxiety and agitation. Increased confusion and irritability are usually clear indicators that a loved one is getting overwhelmed and needs a break to regroup. Try to ensure that there is a quiet place nearby where you both can rest if they get fatigued or start acting out. The solution could be as simple as sitting in the rental car in the parking lot, returning to the hotel room or finding a secluded picnic bench outside of an attraction.

Watch the Clock

Sundowner’s Syndrome can increase fear and agitation just before the sun sets. Make a point of returning to the hotel room before it gets dark. Close the curtains and turn on all the lights to minimize shadows and 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 theraupeutic." 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 dementia (Hubby has LBD) and in all stages, but as long as it is true for us, I'll continue to bother.
2. He enjoys it. Lord knows dementia has robbed him of many of 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.