Many thanks to Thomas Stern, founder of AssistedVacation.com for the following guest post. (To learn more about Thomas’ travel and vacation services for elders in North America and Europe, see contact information at the end of this post.)
On our Assisted Vacation Blog, I previously wrote about the difficult, hilarious and completely worthwhile effort of traveling with my grandmother Nati to her husband’s funeral while she had Alzheimer’s disease. We frequently hear from clients who want to take an Assisted Vacation with a loved-one who has dementia and it can be quite challenging. Nati taught me a lot about the ins and outs “dementia-travel” and I’d like to share some of my observations.
When I was caring for Nati, my wife Laura and I lived apart for a year while she was completing her Master of Social Work degree. Fortunately, we were only a few hours away so we alternated making the trip to visit one another each weekend. Nati came along with me several times and the trips were challenging but I never regretted taking my grandmother.
The key to dementia-travel is planning, and humor. It is important to budget adequate time for transitions because everything takes longer than expected. I always factored at least an extra half an hour to convince Nati that I did in fact know where I was going. A side-effect of her cognitive decline was that for years, she suspected that I was the world’s biggest buffoon. She rarely submitted getting into the car with me until I proved to her that I knew the way to our destination. On the few occasions when I did get us lost, her raised eyebrow indicated that her opinion of me was indeed correct.
While the spontaneity of travel is an enticing aspect for most people, for the individual with dementia, it is usually better to have a specific plan. Nati liked to know what she was going to eat well ahead of mealtime and I made sure that I could deliver on her expectations. I always took along identification to put in her pockets in case she and I were separated when we traveled and I packed copies of her medical records, extra medications and let several people know our itinerary. My grandmother had a sweet-tooth and when she became anxious on the road or in a new setting, a small candy bar was a great distraction and a way to redirect her attention.
When staying in a hotel with a loved-one that has dementia, it’s a good idea to let the hotel staff know ahead of time. I mentioned that humor is important in dementia-travel. On one occasion, Nati wandered away from our hotel room, considerably underdressed, and informed the front-desk that she didn’t know why she was in their hotel but that she had probably been kidnapped. When I arrived at the desk, panting from running down several flights of stairs and more than a bit mortified, Nati was waiting for me with arms folded, the same raised eyebrow, and a look of stretched patience for being related to the world’s biggest buffoon.
It is certainly a personal choice whether or not to travel with dementia. For many, the planning and supervision may be more than they wish to undertake alone and that is precisely why we are in business at AssistedVacation.com. In my experience as a caregiver and as a provider of services for individuals affected by conditions such as Alzheimer’s, I have found that the benefits often far outweigh the effort because vacation is a huge enhancer to quality of life. Nati and I both benefited greatly from our trips together because it gave us both a break from our routine and it gave us the chance to visit Laura, who we both love dearly.
About Thomas Stern: Thomas founded AssistedVacation.com during graduate school in the US and now directs services with his wife Laura from Nice, France. With a team of excellent nurses throughout North America and Europe, AssistedVacation.com is able to provide travel and vacation services to and from nearly any destination. Clients may need support with mobility, personal care, medication management or cognitive support for guests with dementia. Vacations are customized to the precise needs of their clients and Thomas and the team look forward to helping their guests enhance their quality of life through Assisted Vacation!
To contact Thomas and the team:
Phone In the US- 828.273.4323
Outside of the US- Skype-thomas.p.stern