Traveling with an older loved one is easier with proper preparation
Summer is a great time to get away with family and friends, especially after being separated for the past couple of years. Any getaway takes some planning, but traveling with an older loved one requires additional forethought and flexibility. But with a little extra consideration you and your loved one do not need to miss out on the fun.
How do you best prepare for a trip with an older adult?
Keep everyone involved
Include your older loved one in all discussions and planning, asking everyone involved what their vacation goal is. Remember the basics. Do they want to and/or feel able to travel? Would they prefer to stay home? When traveling with multiple generations in one travel party, make sure to talk beforehand about different travel styles, patience and pace. Ground rules may sound like a buzzkill when planning a vacation, but they will ensure that everyone — including the caregiver — has time to relax, rest and enjoy their time.
Traveling is stressful, even for the seasoned traveler. As we get older, the stress, anxiety and fear will increase. It’s important to match your expectations with your older loved one’s physical and mental abilities. There may come a time when traveling might not be feasible because it could be too overwhelming. At that point, you might consider in-home or out-of-home respite care while you travel.
Pay attention to detail
No matter your means of travel, understand what your loved one will need. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Do they usually need a change of clothes during the day?
- How often do they visit the bathroom?
- Do they take morning and/or afternoon naps?
- What time do they normally eat their meals? Snacks?
- What time do they normally go to bed and get up?
- When do they take their medication?
- How much luggage and medical equipment will there be?
Keep an emergency checklist and bag with you
Always keep an emergency bag with you and have it easily accessible. This bag should contain a checklist in case your loved one requires medical attention while on the trip. It should also contain necessities your loved one might need in a hurry.
- Updated list of medications with dose and dosage
- Physicians’ contact information
- Complete medical history
- Insurance cards
- Copies of legal documents (Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, DNR)
Emergency bag should contain
- All prescriptions (in the original bottles) and over-the-counter medications
- Change of clothes
- Extra set of hearing aid batteries
- Favorite snack
- An extra bottle of water
- Favorite items (blanket, sweater, pillow, magazine or a small photo album)
Honor their routine (as much as possible)
Seniors need structure in their day. This is especially true if they are in physical and/or mental decline. While on the go and after you reach your destination, keep things as close to their normal routine as possible. Going out for dinner is part of the fun of being on vacation, but sticking to the same mealtime and diet — especially if there are special dietary needs — is important. Going to bed and getting up at the same time is also very important. All the newness and excitement can make seniors feel insecure and unsure in their new surroundings.
Bring a support system (for yourself)
Just like at home, caregiving can be tedious, frustrating and exhausting. It’s easier if you and your older loved one travel with another adult who is willing to be your backup. Remember, this is your vacation, too. Alternating caregiving duties can give you time to explore, relax, or just sit and visit.
Things to remember
- Allow extra time to get to your destination. If it’s a long drive, divide it up into two days. Take frequent rest stops every two hours to get out and move around to prevent the development of DVT (deep vein thrombosis). If flying, request an aisle seat for your loved one. This way, they can get up and move around easier.
- Even if your loved one has no signs of cognitive decline, with all of the novelty, they may decide to wander off on their own. Consider an ID bracelet before the trip.
- For safety and hygiene issues, your older loved one will need to be accompanied to the restroom in gas stations, in restaurants and on outings.
- Build breaks into the day, allowing plenty of time for rest and naps. If your loved one is easily overwhelmed, make sure there are some quiet activities and a quiet area where they can go.
- If you will be staying in a hotel, call ahead and request adjoining rooms. Keeping the doors open between the rooms will allow you to hear if your loved one gets out of bed at night. If you are staying with relatives or friends, make sure the outside door locks are secure.
With some advanced planning and a positive attitude, you and your older loved one can have an enjoyable, safe and relaxing getaway. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself. You deserve it!