If you’re a caregiver, you might think it would be too difficult to travel with an older parent who requires a lot of assistance or special care. In fact, with a little planning and scaling your trip to meet everyone’s needs, you can still get away and have an enjoyable time. Here are some helpful tips for caregivers planning travel:
Plan activities based on your parents’ abilities and limitations. If your parent has limited mobility, renting a one-story lake-front cottage a few hours from home will be more enjoyable than a whirlwind overseas trip with several stops. A cross-country road trip presents challenges for someone with continence issues. When your expectations are in line with your reality, you’re likely to have a less stressful getaway. In addition, plan a day or two of very limited activities after travel days.
Make reservations, and alert the hotel, restaurant, or other vendor of special needs. Confirm features you need, such as bathroom with safety handrails or wheelchair access to a dinner cruise. Consider renting a larger vehicle to accommodate equipment and to make transfers easier. If you’re flying, make arrangements directly with the rental company office at your destination, well in advance of your trip. Major companies usually have some disability-friendly cars, but equipment varies and supplies are limited. If standard rental agencies don’t have wheelchair-accessible vehicles, lots of companies specialize in them. Be sure to find out if the vehicle has handicap license plates (you might need to bring your temporary permit) and whether accessible transportation to and from the rental car location is on hand.
Familiarize yourself with your destination before you go. Locate medical facilities, pharmacies, and other stores or service providers you and your loved one may need.
In addition, look into a temporary parking permit for the disabled. In New York State, these are issued by local municipalities (usually the city, town, or village clerk), not the Department of Motor Vehicles. They generally require proof of disability from a doctor and are valid for six months, and they are free. Note that these permits are issued to people, not vehicles, which allows a disabled person to use the permit in any vehicle.
If your trip involves flying, be sure that medication is in its original container and check with your doctor’s office about whether you will need any special certificate for traveling with certain meds. And be sure to review medication side effects, such as exposure to the sun or interaction with certain foods.
Take along support stockings for extended road trips or flights and a backup of medical supplies. An MP3 player or smartphone loaded with familiar music and favorite tunes can be reassuring. Bring a tablet and headphones to watch movies. Have snacks and plenty of water at the ready. Even if your destination offers such provisions, you’ll be better able to enjoy yourself if you have them on hand en route.
A new environment may be confusing to a person with dementia. Consider bringing objects that loved one associates with routine, such as a whiteboard with the day’s activities, to help acclimate, and try to maintain your loved one’s routine as much as possible. In addition, bring a few favorite items to create a sense of home.
You might be the primary caregiver at home, but remind your family that this is your vacation, too. Set up a schedule so that everyone who’s old enough has a few hours where he or she is responsible for your parent.
If your parent needs help with personal care or has a condition that requires skilled nursing care, contact a home healthcare agency to arrange for services from a home health aide or nurse. And check to see if there are any adult day care centers nearby.
Do what you can to avoid feeling anxious or exasperated. Your loved one, especially if they have dementia, will look to you for reassurance and safety. If they sense that you are upset, it may cause agitation. Similarly, if they’re upset, slow down and look for a quiet place. Your elderly relative might not be able to keep up with certain activities, so be sure to work a fair share of downtime into your trip. And don’t forget to take full advantage of the lulls, too—after all, you need to rest as well.