For many families who have put off vacationing over the last couple years, this may be the first year of going back to the lake, or up to the mountains or renting a house on the coast. Lots of excitement and anticipation abound. And understandably so!
Those families caring for a relative with dementia often ask us if they should include them on the vacation. They worry that traveling to a new place might be overwhelming, uncomfortable and cause undue stress, not only for their loved one with dementia but for the rest of the family as well.
It’s certainly understandable. After all, the whole point of a vacation is to get away, relax and enjoy some time to rewind and recharge. And yet, why shouldn’t you include that very special person with whom you’ve spent so many vacations in past years?
It can be a tough decision; one that requires some thought. A few things to consider:
- In what stage of the disease is your loved one?
- How stable are they in terms of emotional wellbeing and cognition?
- Will you be relaxing in a rented home? Or out and about?
- What are your loved one’s needs on a daily basis? Can you meet them?
- Do they actually want to go with you? If not, what arrangements can be made, such as respite care?
The best way to address these questions is with input from your loved one’s physician. They are in the best position to assess your loved one’s physical, mental, and emotional health as they relate to the vacation logistics (location, housing, access to healthcare, etc.).
For those of you who are ready to bring mom or dad along on your vacation, the Alzheimer’s Association has travel tips. Here are five we’ve found especially useful:
- Plan ahead. If you are not already familiar with the area your visiting, learn as much as you can about the vacation home, hotel, and what local resources may be available for you and your loved one. A little preliminary planning goes a long way.
- Inform key individuals ahead of stay. This may be hotel staff, concierge, rental unit owner and any other individuals you will be interacting with. Let them know of any specific needs or situations that may require special assistance or attention.
- Bring medical and legal documents. Should a medical or other issue arise it’s important to be prepared. Make sure you have your loved one’s doctor contact information, medical records, Power of Attorney (if applicable) and anything else you might need in an emergency.
- Bring all their personal items. This includes extra medication doses, in case you need to stay longer, ID bracelet, alert pendant, mobility and other aids. Also bring along “comfort” items such as a framed photo of a special loved one and their favorite pillow or blanket.
- Be prepared to leave early. As carefully as you plan and prepare your loved one for the vacation, it’s important to understand that individuals with dementia may experience sudden emotional and cognitive behavioral shifts that may require getting them quickly back to a familiar environment. While you may have great hopes that they will enjoy the vacation as much as you do, it’s important to be prepared in the event they do not.
Planning a vacation that includes a loved one living with dementia can be challenging. Getting everything in place prior to your vacation does take some time and can be stressful in and of itself. But for those willing to take the time to work out the details in advance it can be well worth the effort, providing an amazing family experience for everyone!