Travel is an activity that many adults look forward to being able to do more of in their “golden years”. After children are grown and work and other duties have tapered off, one may have more time (and likely resources) to enjoy one of the most rewarding experiences in our lifetime. However for many aging adults medical or physical challenges can cause them to be unable to travel on their own. If you are a family caregiver that wants to travel with your aging loved one but not sure where to start, let us help you make a plan to make what seems a lofty goal more feasible.
Whether the goal is to visit famous landmarks around the world or to visit long-distance family and friends, traveling with elderly loved ones, can involve various challenges. Your loved one may not be as mobile as they once were, or they may have health conditions such as dementia or heart problems. As with any other vacation, preparation is key. Plan ahead for your loved one’s needs to avoid unexpected complications and decrease unnecessary stress on your family vacation.
The following are some plan-ahead tips to make traveling with your senior loved one stress-free and enjoyable for all:
1. First and foremost, consult with your loved one’s doctor. Do not plan a vacation before discussing with his or her primary care doctor to make sure that your loved one is cleared for travel. Ask the doctor about specific travel tips regarding your loved one’s medical conditions and any medication changes that might be necessary. You should also ask about precautionary vaccinations.
2. Choose a vacation that limits challenges such as a cruise. On a cruise, there are easily accessible activities that can be enjoyed by family members of all ages. Some seniors may choose to stay on the ship because it feels like the attractions come to you and there’s less effort required to participate. Nonetheless, many cruise lines even design shore excursions specifically for those with limited mobility in mind. If a cruise isn’t your cup of tea, or if you need to fly to get to the port to board the ship, our next few tips will help you manage flying with your aging loved one.
3. Choose a non-stop flight and avoid regional jets. If possible, non-stop flights are a better choice than connecting flights because they reduce travel time, limit the amount of mobility necessary, and minimize the chances of a missed connection, therefore lessening stress. The added fare or longer trip to an airport that offers a non-stop flight will be worth it in the long-run.
4. Indicate the need for disability options when booking the flight. Some airlines allow passengers to select disability options at the time of booking, while with many others you will need to contact the airline by phone to request these options separately. Not taking this extra step can result in huge difficulties/delays to your trip when you arrive for your flight. Adults with limited mobility who do not plan to take their own wheelchair can usually be provided one by the airport that can be used to get them to their gate. You can request additional assistance to and from the aircraft seat as well – just keep in mind that this means remaining on board until all other passengers have exited which means you might need to pack a little extra patience!
5. Use the priority service line at security. Everyone is required to undergo screening at the checkpoint, however, passengers in wheelchairs (and their companions) can receive priority service from the TSA, even without being part of the elite status programs. Seniors and persons with disabilities and medical devices or conditions can be approved to use the TSA Pre-check line. In this scenario the individual will not be required to remove shoes, belts, or light jackets and may be allowed to remain seated during the screening. In planning to make this request, be sure to bring with you a TSA notification card or relevant medical documentation that can be used to describe the passenger’s condition.
6. Pack lightly and with convenience in mind. Much like traveling with a small child, it is crucial to pack essential items in a bag that is easily accessible. Important documents, medications (along with a list/schedule of the medications), drinks/snacks, incontinence products, a deck of cards, sunscreen and a travel pillow/blanket should be kept close at hand. It is also a good idea to layer clothing such as sweaters and a hat that can be added or removed depending on the varying temperatures that might be experienced during travel. Keep this bag close by – do not pack it in the trunk of the car or check it at the airport.
7. Consider your loved one’s limitations when planning activities. Don’t plan to start activities too early in the morning and don’t pack the schedule full into the evening, at least not without planned rest and extra downtime. Seniors have less endurance than their younger travel companions. You’ll have to take it slower than you normally would. If your loved one can be left alone it may be okay to drop him or her off at your hotel or rental accommodations for a rest while the rest of the family engages in another fun activity. If not, perhaps family members can take turns staying with the older adult family member in the afternoon so that the same person doesn’t always miss out. Always build in extra time for longer bathroom breaks as well.
8. Maintain a routine on vacation. A predictable daily routine can reduce stress and anxiety for your loved one while traveling, especially those who may suffer from cognitive impairment. Keeping mealtimes and rest times as consistent as possible will lower the risk of agitation. And of course, maintaining medication schedules is a must.
9. Plan ahead for medical emergencies. It is essential to take documentation such as advanced directives, medication lists and insurance cards on your trip. For those with dementia, an ID bracelet or even a wearable GPS unit can be a good idea. Research before hand where the nearest hospitals are in case of emergency and make sure your loved one’s primary physician knows you will be away and can be “on-call” in case of a question. If your loved one doesn’t have a cell phone, acquiring a temporary pre-paid cell phone with your number programmed into it is a good plan to make sure they can get in touch with you if separated. You may want to also carry a photo of your loved one with you in case you get separated and need help from authorities to locate them.
Lastly if your loved one has numerous physical and medical challenges, you may want to consider bringing a professional Caregiver/Companion along for the trip. If your loved one already has a paid caregiver who can go with you it may be rather easy to negotiate a payment arrangement with them for this situation. If not you could contact a local home care agency to ask if they provide temporary services for travel situations. Many will offer a negotiated rate for this service and can provide a skilled, attentive caregiver that will ease your burden by giving 100% attention to your loved one’s needs while you and your family enjoy your surroundings and activities you have planned. If this is something you are considering and you live in Northern Virginia, contact Allegiance Aging Care Services for assistance with your planning today!
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.