By Angelina Gamba
While the holiday season can be a time of celebration and delight, it can also be stressful for those living with Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers and loved ones. For those traveling, it can be even more challenging trying to figure out how to ensure the experience is comfortable and safe for all parties involved. Teri Sarkozy is a caregiver for her husband, Gene, who is living in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Sarkozy frequently travels with her husband and shared some tips for other caregivers traveling with their loved ones with dementia.
“Give yourself time to plan things ahead and get everything together because it’s stressful enough already,” Sarkozy said. “Try to plan your transportation, hotel, excursions and packing ahead of time.”
She recommends creating a packing list with everything you need far in advance. “I create and print out a packing list for him that is very specific with exactly how many pairs of everything he may need.”
Also consider bringing a bag of essentials. “I have a first aid kit that we travel with that has band-aids, antiseptic, Motrin, Tylenol and anything else that we might need other than his standard prescriptions.”
Other items Sarkozy says may be helpful to include are your travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.
Have a plan for navigating airports.
Airports and planes can be a difficult mode of transportation, but it’s often the most efficient or the only option. Sarkozy recommends utilizing AirTags and GPS. “I have an AirTag in his wallet, one on his keychain, and the GPS on his watch so I can find him if we were ever to get separated.”
Have your loved one go through any security checkpoints or scanners first. “It’s happened to me before, but if I go through a scanner first, and he’s struggling on the other side, I can’t get through to help him.”
Sarkozy also recommends locating family restrooms to avoid separating and communicate specific instructions on where to wait or meet up if brief separation is inevitable. Hold onto passports, IDs and other important documents.
Keep your loved one in the loop but avoid overwhelming them.
“I try to avoid giving too much information at once because then he has trouble processing it,” Sarkozy said.
She says to write down important information and planned activities where they can easily see it. “I will put activities on a phone calendar and I have a dry erase board that I update every week.”
Give small chunks of information at a time. “ I might ask him to get the suitcases down one day, and then the next day I will hand him his packing list and ask him to get started. I try to make sure there’s enough time to do each task because if you try to rush them, they get flustered.”
Give a heads up about changes in routine. “I always try to let him know ahead of time that we are going to be doing something different. I also think it’s in the way you present it. It’s important to be calm when you tell them so they feel confident about the changes and like it’s going to be ok.”
Enjoy your trip and take care of yourself as well.
“For the caregivers, it’s a lot of work,” Sarkozy said. “You have to do everything.”
Try to set time aside for yourself. “Consider having family members with your loved one so you can have a little me time.”
Enjoy the trip. “If you can travel with your loved one, then do it for as long as you can as long as it’s not too stressful for either of you. My husband loves to travel and looks forward to it. When he’s active, I find that he does better.”
For more travel tips, visit alz.org/travel or call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.