On the Road: Travelling with Someone with Alzheimer’s

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
A man putting luggage in the trunk of his car for a trip.

Learn some helpful tips from an expert on creating a safe and smooth journey with someone who has Alzheimer's.

Have you ever thought about travelling long distance with a loved one with Alzheimer’s and struggled with how to manage the travel details, the drive, and keep your loved one safe? Here we will take a look at doing just this - driving long distance with someone with Alzheimer’s, and provide helpful suggestions from a travel nurse who works specifically with the elderly.

Cindy Shaeffer, M.S., R.N., A.P.N., and flight nurse with Travel Care & Logistics, Inc. of Chicago, makes her living travelling with older adults. Hired by families to assist them in getting an elder from one place to the next, sometimes by land, sometimes by air, she provided some suggestions for families to use for a smooth journey:

  • Travel early in the morning;
  • Avoid situations with lots of people or lots of noise;
  • Travelling via car means there should be three people in the car: the driver, the person with Alzheimer’s and the third person watching the one with Alzheimer’s—at all times;
  • Depending on the distance and cost of air travel in the area of travel, hiring a car service can be a better and less expensive option.

Documentation and Medications

  • Bring medical records in case you need to seek healthcare for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, including a summary of care, list of medications, and Power of Attorney for Health Care;
  • Bring your loved one’s valid state ID;
  • Bring two sets of medications—the primary set in a pill minder, and a backup in original bottles because the bottles have the instructions.

Some Things to Remember

  • Keep your loved one’s physician informed of your travels plans—in case he needs to be contacted while you are travelling;
  • When travelling, remember frequent small meals, and frequent small amounts of fluids.

You’ve Arrived.  Making the Setting Alzheimer’s Friendly

When arranging for overnight accommodations, Ms. Schaefer suggests considering a stay in a local assisted living facility under a respite stay. An assisted living facility is already designed for the safety of residents, and the staff is trained, so the facility is prepared for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Whether your loved one and the caregiver stay in a hotel or an assisted living facility, be sure to mimic your loved one’s home environment by setting up the queues just like home—i.e. the toothbrush, soap, washcloth, pills. These visual reminders can make it easier for your loved one to accomplish these tasks.

Structure Sleep Time for a Smooth Stay

On each of your days away, including travel days, allow for your loved one to take an hour long nap in the early afternoon, making sure she wakes while the sun is up. Then stay up for the rest of the afternoon, eat dinner, stay up and then go to bed. As confusion can be worse in the evening, this structure will allow your loved one to remain more oriented, and sleep better.

Big Event? Plan Activities and Downtime

If there is a big event during your stay, such as a wedding or family reunion, there is much you can do to provide the structure and the downtime your loved one needs to enjoy the event.

To help your loved one engage in the event, find something he or she can do to participate, making sure to fit it to his or her abilities. It might be folding napkins, organizing silverware, or stuffing envelopes.

Quiet time will be needed during such an event. When things just become too overwhelming, allow for your loved one to retreat to his space with the caregiver. On the day after the event, plan for a quieter day—sleeping in, easing into the day, having a quiet activity with an older relative, or meeting up with small groups of family.

The Road Home

Of course, when returning home, continue to follow all the guidelines of your trip to the event: leave early, avoid big crowds, have a driver and a caregiver in the car, hire a car service if needed, frequent small meals and fluids.

Above all, enjoy your time with your loved one.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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