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Traveling with a Parent Who Has Dementia

Are you planning to travel over the holidays with a mom or dad who has dementia? If so you may already be a bundle of nerves, worrying about all the things that could go wrong. How will mom handle it? What if dad becomes agitated during the flight?

Your concerns are certainly understandable. However, there are things you can do to prepare both yourself and your parent for the journey ahead that will help you navigate around high stress situations and avoid unnecessary hassles. Here are some tips:

For all travel:

  • Try to arrange your travel around your loved one’s routine, when possible.
  • Make sure you have all your parent’s important documents with you. Hopefully you’ve already gained Power of Attorney for your parent. If not, take steps to do so.
  • Make sure your parent has eaten before leaving.
  • Bring along familiar “finger food” snacks that are easy for your parent to hold and eat.

When traveling by car:

  • Be sure to use your child safety door and window locks.
  • Consider covering the seatbelt connection point so that it isn’t easily unlocked.
  • If possible, move the seat position back to give your parent as much room as possible.
  • Bring along some of their favorite music to play, preferably familiar tunes that have a calming effect.
  • If you are planning car travel that is more than a couple of hours, use an online map tool, such as Googlemaps, to check ahead for safe, uncrowded places to stop and stretch.

When traveling by air:

  • If possible, avoid short flight connections. That way you will have ample time between connections to rest, snack and stay hydrated.
  • Even if your parent is in the earlier stages of dementia, you may want to take advantage of special local transportation services that will get you comfortably to your gate without having to wait in lines. Book in advance if possible.
  • Check with your airport as to services they provide for individuals with disabilities. They may make allowances for those with dementia and provide extra assistance that you can take advantage of.
  • Check ahead with your local TSA (Transportation Security Administration) to find out ahead of time how the security checkpoint process will work for your parent. When you get to the security area, make sure you inform them of your parent’s condition.
  • Even if your parent is ambulatory, consider calling ahead for a wheel chair. This will not only provide mobility for your loved one, but most services include an airport employee to help.

The best way to plan for travel with a loved one challenged by dementia is to expect that things will not always go as planned. Try to have a “Plan B” for as many legs of your journey as possible. Then, when some things do go smoothly, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and more able to cope with the things that don’t.