People experiencing memory loss or mild cognitive impairment thrive in familiar environments and by following a familiar routine. The more consistent the type, time and frequency of activities, the better you feel. Adherence to routine creates a sense of safety, brought by the certainty of knowing what is coming up next. It avoids confusion.
Routine, however, gets interrupted when traveling. While for most people traveling to new places is exciting, traveling can be confusing. Being away from familiar surroundings, eating and sleeping in unfamiliar places, having your sleep pattern disrupted, needing to speak and interact with strangers (such as airport and hotel staff) and having to follow directions that may not be fully understood; all the novelty of traveling may be confusing. Confusion causes distress that may result in unusual symptoms.
However, people experiencing memory loss or mild cognitive impairment can and do travel. Some travel because they need to, some travel because it is fun. With appropriate support and preparedness, traveling with dementia can be safe and enjoyable.
Appropriateness, even when carefully considered, should not be taken for granted. The interruption in regular routine and activities aggravated by the novelty of new surroundings and personal interactions may result in anxiety.
You can minimize the risks of confusion and anxiety with careful planning and preparation for your journey. Here are some essential precautions for safe travel.
» New environments may be more difficult to navigate. Register with the Medic Alert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program and have the person wear the ID bracelet at all times. As soon as, the surroundings become unfamiliar, please stop and ask for directions.
» Consult with the doctor prior to your trip and ask for an anti-anxiety medication to be used in case of emergency. Also ask for a letter indicating the condition and carry it with other travel documents.
» Create an itinerary that includes details about each destination. Give copies to emergency contacts at home.
» In your carry-on luggage, be sure to have medications, your travel itinerary, insurance cards, physicians’ names and phone numbers, your identification and the person with dementia’s identification, including photo.
» Inside the person’s purse or pocket, place a card with the name of the hotel or person you’ll be visiting.
» Have a bag of essentials with you at all times with a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.
» Avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections. Keep your travel plans simple with as few layovers and flight changes as possible.
» Stick with the familiar. Travel to known destinations that involve as few changes in daily routine as possible. Try to visit places that were familiar before the onset of dementia.
» Inform the airline and airport medical service department ahead of time of your needs to make sure they can help you. Most airlines will work with you to accommodate special needs.
» Even if walking is not difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place.
» If you will be staying in a hotel, inform the staff ahead of time of your specific needs so they can be prepared to assist you.
» Travel during the time of day that is best for you
» If appropriate, tell airport employees, screeners and in-flight crew members or even fellow passengers by passing them one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s travel cards. Keep in mind that they are not dementia experts and may not know exactly what to do with that information but this will allow them to understand that extra patience is required. You can contact your local office for cards by calling 1.800.272.3900 or print from your own home using these files:
- My Companion has Alzheimer’s Cards
- My Companion has Alzheimer’s Cards in Spanish and English
- I have Alzheimer’s Cards
These files are made to work with business card template paper by Avery 5371 but of course regular paper and a pair of scissors always works as well.