If you live with someone who has dementia, getting away on holiday can be quite difficult. One of the key reasons for this is that unfamiliar territory can often be unsettling for the person with dementia. This can lead to the person feeling detached, upset or scared. This can also be traumatising for the person who brought everyone on holiday as well, as guilt can set in, despite the person’s good intentions.
With the number of people living with dementia set to hit a million in the next six years according to the Alzheimer’s Society, the realities of living with or around someone who has dementia will be apparent to more and more people.
Although there is the possibility for travel causing undue stress, taking a break from your usual surroundings can have a really positive impact on the person living with dementia. New experiences and a break from routine may be invigorating and constructive.
In order to maximise the likelihood that you’ll travel without any difficulties, and for the experience to be wholly positive, we would recommend considering the following five tips.
1. Wherever You Choose to Go, Know It Well and Have It Know You Well
If you’re travelling with someone with dementia, it’s no good booking a holiday that requires a lot of chopping, changing and last-minute decision-making on location. City breaks can be just as manageable as going out to the countryside or to the beach, but make sure you don’t try to pack too much in, as this could be needlessly distressing.
There are some fantastic disability and dementia-friendly travel bookers that can advise or even fully plan out a trip that is suitable for everyone involved. Travel For All works across sectors with organisations like VisitBritain, as well as policy makers, to help make travel for people living with any kind of disability or impairment easier.
No matter where you decide to go, though, communication is key. So if you’ve decided to stay with relatives, make sure they are aware of any extra actions that need taking ahead of your arrival and while you’re there. If you’re going to a hotel or resort, speak directly to the hotel staff or your travel agent before you go about whether any provisions can be put in place that would help you and your travel companion(s), and make the holiday easier and more enjoyable.
It’s important that you do your own thorough research as well. You should try to find out as much as you can about where you are headed to. List the activities you think you and the person you’re travelling with would enjoy, find out all of the best places to visit and how to get there, and scope out the quieter places to relax. If you struggle to find out as much as you’d like through your normal, go-to methods, try searching for travel blogs before you leave, seek out the local tourist office on arrival or speak to a member of hotel staff. If you’re staying at an Airbnb property, talk to them about your needs. Their local knowledge could be invaluable.
2. Travel During the Off Season
Booking out of season or making sure that the place you’re staying in is small and uncomplicated is also advisable. If you’re travelling to a large hotel with lots of floors and corridors, things can become complicated and overwhelming very quickly.
If the person with dementia you are travelling with is confident at home with familiar people and surroundings, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be just as carefree when they go on holiday. A change to their routine, environment or diet may impact their overall enjoyment of the holiday. Making sure you can find a quiet space in times of distress is a vital thing to consider.
Travelling out of season will mean there are fewer people and the overall cost of the holiday will usually be less, so you will get better value for money too!
3. There are More Essentials to Pack Than Usual when Travelling With Dementia
It’s crucial that you have some go-to items that may help keep your travel companion calm. It’s potentially a surprising preparation tip, but we have found that it’s actually best to over-pack in these circumstances. Contrary to what most travel guides suggest when travelling on your own, it can really pay off to have multiple contingency plans if you’re travelling with someone with dementia.
If the person you are travelling with requires the use of multiple daily living aids, it could be that you’ll have to pack much more heavily than you would otherwise need to. For example, the person with dementia may have reduced mobility and may use a dressing aid such as an extra long shoehorn. Packing this might be a pain, but keeping elements of the home routine can be really useful while away. It might be that the independence that using a shoehorn gives your travel companion is empowering, and not having it while on holiday may put a dampener on the experience.
In addition to this, it’s really important to pack some familiar, sentimental items. Something as simple as a set of photos or a mug that they often use can help situate someone in their new surroundings and put them at ease.
You should also ensure the person with dementia has a form of identification and emergency contact details on them at all times. In the — hopefully — very unlikely event that they get separated from you, it will make things much easier. Contact can be established with you if somebody recognises that the person is lost and has dementia — and doing so quickly will help lessen the impact of getting lost on the person with dementia.
You should make sure they have a money belt or similar item on them at all times, with the aforementioned items inside, or you could even invest in a GPS tracker that can be attached to a belt loop to be used in emergencies. A MedicAlert bracelet can also be a very wise investment ahead of your holiday.
4. Plan Some Physical Activity – But Don’t Over-Plan
Recently, it has been found that the more active you are in your life, the less likely you are to suffer from the symptoms of dementia once older. Furthermore, a Rush University study has suggested that activity sharpens even dementia-affected brains. For that reason, you shouldn’t shun the idea of physical activity or lots of movement while on holiday with someone with dementia.
Going for a bracing walk can be a simple but effective way of spending some quality time away, and if you’re on a beach holiday, a walk along the coast can be perfect given the simple surroundings — it’s hard to take a wrong turn if you keep close to the sea.
5. Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance
A lot of holiday makers these days go without travel insurance. The world feels smaller, and it’s easier to feel that you’re never that far from a helping hand. But if you’re travelling abroad with someone who is vulnerable, you need to make sure you’re as well-covered as possible.
Illness or the loss of luggage or other items can be distressing at the best of times. When travelling with someone with dementia, you may find that there’s an increased risk of specific things going wrong. You will, of course, have a measure of confidence if you’re planning on taking a trip away, but travel insurance is there for the unexpected, and it’s important that you account for this in these circumstances.
Finally, you will need to make sure that your travel insurance policy recognises all of the medical conditions you and your travel companion(s) have, and it’s worth getting extra cover in case of delays. Delays can be more than frustrating when travelling with dementia — it can completely derail a trip if you’ve not got a contingency plan. Travel insurance will mean you can always find comfortable accommodation if the worst happens.
About the Author
Gary Braithwaite is the Director of Bayliss Mobility. With over 25 years experience in the mobility industry, Gary hopes to help people regain and retain their independence by providing simple tools for daily living.