Whether accompanying an elder home for a holiday or bringing them back to your own home, traveling can be daunting to say the least. Having traveled with my father several times during the years that he lived with me, I learned several things that I’d never do again.
1. Do it alone!
Whether by plane, train, bus or auto, when there is no one to help you manage luggage, get through security check points (UGH!), manage rest room needs (especially when the elder is of the opposite sex), help elders navigate narrow isles, it is only a set up for an emotional break-down.
I remember standing in the middle of an airport in San Diego, my father in a wheelchair, enormous amounts of luggage at my side, and me in tears! Don’t think that airport personnel, or any other type of transportation worker is going to assist you – because they aren’t. Do NOT do it alone.
2. Help an elder pack their suitcase.
Just let your loved one pack their suitcase and then REPACK it (in stealth mode) when they are otherwise occupied.
This is especially important when dealing with an elder who has dementia and may pack 10 pairs of jeans and 1 shirt, no coat, and 45 pairs of socks and who also cannot understand why their medications aren’t sorted out into their pill boxes as usual (medications must be in the prescription bottles when traveling by air). It’s no use explaining; just repack and get the luggage out of their sight quickly.
3. Assume that when the elder says they don’t need to use the restroom, they don’t.
Apologize for “drinking too much coffee”, “having a weak bladder”, “being worried that rest room facilities won’t be available later”, whatever you can come up with in order to justify your frequent restroom visits. Just stop frequently. Enough said about that.
4. Forget to take photos.
Sometimes in the rush of the moment and the desire to “get there” or get somewhere else, we forget to stop and capture memories of our elders. Take “way too many” photos. That’s the good thing about digital cameras – we can delete the not so great ones later. You’ll also find that these photos will become treasured by your elder loved one, as well and can serve to remind them who is who.
5. NOT ask a hotel or motel if they have handicapped accessible rooms.
More and more hotels and motels have at least one ADA (American Disabilities Act) equipped rooms. These rooms can make life a whole lot easier for both you and your loved one because they are generally larger with over-sized bathrooms featuring walk in or roll-in showers, grab bars, and higher toilets. They also feature lower door knobs, lowered “peep-holes” and specialized emergency plans.
6. Forget that traveling can be worrisome and even scary for an elder.
I’ll never forget the time when the TSA agent insisted upon giving my 86 year father a pat down because he couldn’t go through the check-point with his pacemaker. I was FURIOUS. But my father put on his best smile and cooperated as well as he could. The pat down took 30 minutes.
This kind of thing actually happens all the time and elders are not used to people “violating their spaces”, are not sure WHY they are being singled out and are usually already having a difficult time maintaining the stamina it requires to travel.
They may be afraid of things that might happen while traveling such as falling, not remembering people, not being able to tolerate the trip (or the visits by family members) physically, becoming separated from you or having an incontinent episode.
Those with dementia, especially those who live in assisted living or memory facilities, may continuously remind you that they must get back to their room before dinner is served. Redirection can help.
Although traveling with an elder is much more difficult than traveling alone or with family members who can function on their own, it can still be a pleasant experience and will create wonderful, lasting memories.