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Dementia and Travel – Is it a good idea?

Jul 28, 2017 by Toni Reinhart

Summer vacation time is in full swing so it’s inevitable that we get asked, “Is it safe to travel with my dad with his dementia?”Sometimes, we are asked if they can travel alone. My mother wants to take my dad to Italy next summer. Being a caregiver is stressful and I know we long for a vacation, but is traveling with your loved one who has dementia going to be the vacation you long for?


Here’s a question to ask before you start planning your trip. Why do you want your loved one with dementia to travel? It’s important to think about what they will get out of it and what the pitfalls of travel for a dementia patient are.

Routine is essential for a person with dementia, even in the early stages. They are losing their memory and ability to control their situation. Routine and familiar surroundings are a comfort. Their ability to problem solve and react to new situations is compromised. Think about how stressful travel is now, especially travel by air. If it is stressful for you, imagine how stressful it is for someone who has trouble processing what is going on and maybe has limited ability to communicate their feelings.

So, if you are planning the trip because you think they will enjoy it (maybe it is a destination they have enjoyed in the past), I would recommend against it. Show them pictures from time spent there and let them enjoy the good memories. Or, explore virtual reality experiences with them from the comfort of their own home. The ability to turn on excitement and memories through these nifty VR gadgets and recordings is revolutionizing aged care, especially for dementia patients. Check out some VR experiences for the elderly here.

If you want to travel with your loved one with dementia, you will need to be prepared – here are just a few tips from Caring.com:

By plane:

  • Someone with cognitive impairment should not travel unescorted.
  • Stay together in the airport at all times.
  • Don't rush the person in security lines. Some airports offer family-friendly lanes -- they're not just for people traveling with young children.
  • Schedule flights early in the day, when the person may be in the best spirits and you're less likely to be marooned overnight in case of bad weather or other delays. It's worth the extra price to fly nonstop. If connections are necessary, allow plenty of time.
  • Pack snacks and provide water, since dehydration is a risk for seniors. Use the bathroom just before the flight to help avoid the need for the person to do so on the airplane.
  • Bring something for the person to do with his hands: a puzzle book, a photo album, knitting, a textured rubbery ball to hold, playing cards.

By car:

  • It's ideal to skip a long journey by car, but when a car trip is necessary, avoid traveling on peak days. It may be better to spend one long day in the car than to break up a trip, because the unfamiliarity of the overnight stop could be upsetting.
  • Stop as often as needed for comfort's sake, but stay with the person at gas stations and restaurants. New places invite confusion.
  • Play the person's favorite music in the car. Many people with dementia find music calming. And it's better than audio books or talk stations, which can be hard for the person to follow.
  • If you must stay in a hotel, remain with the person at all times. Get one large room with two beds rather than separate or adjoining rooms.
  • Bring something for the person to do with his hands: a puzzle book, a photo album, knitting, a textured rubbery ball to hold, playing cards.

Make sure your loved one has identification on them. I have a friend who had an ID bracelet made for her mom with her name and phone number on it. Ok, sure, it was a lot like the one I have for my dog, but it works and her mother knew to show her bracelet to someone when she needed help. Check out Project LifeSaver, this is a good idea even if you are not traveling.

Some of our clients plan ahead and ask to take our caregiver with them. We have accommodated them and it has been a great help. Ask any caregiver and I’m sure they will tell you that having that extra help can be a life saver. So, don’t hesitate to ask about getting extra help, maybe from a family member or friend if you can’t hire it. The more people you have looking out for your loved one, the better.


We’re here to help 24/7. Give us a call at (703) 424-9519, or stop by at 459 Herndon Pkwy #5, Herndon, VA 20170

Comfort Keepers Herndon is a full-service, in-home care provider for the elderly - helping to keep your loved ones at home longer for better quality of life. Toni writes regularly on best practices for home care, shares a lifetime of experiences, and has been featured in many Northern Virginia publications, including the Washington Post.

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