One of the scariest things which can happen to a human, is forgetting how to remember. However, this doesn’t mean adventures have to stop. This year I have been lucky enough to go on a couple of adventures with a human who has dementia. Dementia is not a disease, it is a condition people can live with for many years without any major issues. It’s a joy watching them experience new things and remember visiting places in the past. Sometimes the simplest things can bring the most joy.
- Before travelling – what to consider
- Planning travel
- Bring the adventure to the person
- Travel insurance
- During your holiday
- Going home
Before travelling – what to consider
What are the symptoms and will travel make these worse? The first thing to consider is their condition, deciding on whether visiting somewhere different will trigger an unwanted reaction. For early to mid stages travel can be safe and fun. Adventures may need to be amended but that can be part of the fun. But, in later stages of with the following issues, I advise against travel.
- Physical or verbal abuse.
- Erratic behaviour.
- Late stage dementia.
- Uncontrolled medical conditions.
- Confusion, agitation or disorientation in familiar places.
- High risk of falls.
- Wandering behaviour, especially involving the person leaving a building and getting lost.
- If the person doesn’t want to go or gets scared, upset or agitated when out of the house.
A holiday doesn’t need to be a far flung trip, staycations are just as fun. Find out where the person used to go as a child or if they have a favourite holiday memory. I for one love revisiting familiar places. Involving them with the planning will help them to know where they are going. I find using photographs and a map make the planning easier. This allows the person to decide which places they would like to see. Allowing them to help with even a small part of planning an itinerary will allow them to feel included. Just because they lack capacity to plan the bigger aspects doesn’t mean they won’t have great ideas for activities.
A trial staycation close to home is a great way to find out if the person can manage in different surroundings. Hotels can be helpful as there is added security and staff to help. But holiday cottages can be a great way to keep a normal routine for meals, medications and bedtime.
What time of day is the person feeling their best. I recommend day time travel so you don’t miss out on sleep, which can sometimes cause worsened confusion. Consider breaking up long drives. It takes longer to reach your destination but the travel can be less stressful.
Bring the adventure to the person
To on a day trip somewhere close to home. Museums, National trust sites or even a visit to the seaside are great fun. Here at Team Veganosaurus, we love day trips, there are some beautiful places right on the doorstop. Certain places even do dementia days or certain visiting times which are quieter.
If you can’t visit anywhere, some museums offer virtual visits and some YouTube channels do walking tours of cities. It is a great option which can be enjoyed without having the stress of leaving home.
Travel insurance is one thing I refuse to travel without. It can be expensive but there are dementia charities which can provide cheaper alternatives. I like to use SAGA, however they have one strict rule. The person with dementia cannot be left alone.
Planning ahead of the journey and having an itinerary with information such as times, destinations and meals, will help ensure calm travels. Whether travelling by plane, train or bus give yourself extra time to get there. This will allow everyone to have time to relax and adjust to their new surroundings.
In the airport there are options to use priority boarding or passenger assistance. Knowing you have a member of staff with a good knowledge of the airport can put your mind at ease. Some airports have quiet rooms for people with hidden disabilities, they are a nice quiet space in often busy areas.
Give the person a task, such as carrying the bag of snacks or picking the puzzle book you will buy in the airport. Simple tasks and easy to follow instructions will help keep the person busy. Ask lots of questions so they can tell you if they need anything. A great way to signal the person may need extra help is the green sunflower lanyard, they are available in some larger supermarkets and airports.
When getting on and off the plane, wait until the crowds have passed. There is nothing more stressful than being needed around in a crowd.
During your holiday
Allow extra time to get used to your new surroundings. To familiarise them, I find making the unpacking into a game. Then everyone knows where everything is and they can look in the cupboards without fear of not knowing what is inside. It is also a reminder of clothes they brought with them. Take a bottle of water or cup to ensure the person is keeping hydrated and is only drinking fluids which are safe.
Try and stick to a routine which is very similar to the one they have at home. Especially when organising meal times and bedtime routines. I always travel with a pack of cards, dominoes and a book. Playing games and reading are a great way to pass the time and relax. In unfamiliar surroundings I find it is best to eat early and avoid being outside in the dark. It sounds silly but those with dementia can find dark streets to be overwhelming. Hence, the games and books to enjoy.
Other simple things which can help are taking a familiar item such as a bath towel or as I have found, a pair of slippers. Such a small part of a daily routine with them can make all the difference. A night light can prove useful as a guide to finding the bathroom, or if you are in doubt, leave the bathroom light on.
Keep a holiday diary and take photos whilst you are there. It is a great reminder of all the fun activities you did and you can look over it once your holiday is over.
Inform the person prior to travelling so they are aware of another change in their surroundings. Begin to pack the suitcase a day earlier, so the change will be smaller and more manageable. It is a good way to reflect on how person has coped and how you have managed. In my experience, travel is an enriching experience which helps your mind to stay active. However, if you found your trip to be too much, try an alternative adventure. If you had a great time, consider going on the same holiday again in the future, as then you will both have peace of mind, going back to somewhere familiar removed a lot of the travel stress.
Finally, if you are unsure about travelling consult your GP, memory clinic or Alzheimer’s Society for advice.
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