Traveling tips for those with Alzheimer’s | Heraldrepublican | #specialneeds | #kids

INDIANAPOLIS — Thanksgiving travel is expected to increase this year.

Planning and taking a trip can be particularly stressful for the 110,000 Hoosiers living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, according to the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter and Dr. Aubrey Tuders with the Bowen Center.

First, families may want to consider the difficulties and benefits of travel for a person with dementia. In the early stages of dementia, a person may still enjoy traveling. As the disease progresses, travel may become too overwhelming, according to the association.

Due to the nature of Alzheimer’s, family members need to be cognizant of what stage of the disease their family member is in, Tuders said.

“Something that used to be enjoyable, can now be very frightening,” Tuder said. “They have to consider the stage the (person with Alzheimer’s) is in.”

People with Alzheimer’s have an increased level of audio chatter in their ears and an increasing number of blind spots in their vision. The two combine to make sensory overload a real possibility, even in what many people would consider to be regular environments.

Take those conditions to a crowded train station or a busy airport, and caregivers need to consider what a trip may be like for their loved one with Alzheimer’s. Throw in a mask mandate for air travelers and some other forms of mass transportation due to the coronavirus, and it can be incredibly stressful.

Tuders said caregivers need to keep in mind their own well-being before committing or going through with a long trip.

“They should be looking at their own stress level,” Tuders said. “Traveling at the holidays is stressful itself.”

She said someone with Alzheimer’s might struggle in public spaces, and that might even cause a scene. As much as possible, she encouraged, people should ignore the looks of others as they deal with the situation. Someone with Alzheimer’s has the same right to travel as everyone else, she said, and their needs have to be looked at.

When deciding to travel, consider what the best mode is for the person with the disease and go with the option that provides the most comfort and the least anxiety.

• Stick with the familiar. Travel to known destinations that involve as few changes in daily routine as possible. Try to visit places that were familiar before the onset of dementia.

• Keep in mind that there may come a time when traveling is too disorienting or stressful for the person with dementia.

• Have a bag of essentials with you at all times that includes medications, your travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.

• Pack necessary medications, up-to-date medical information, a list of emergency contacts and photocopies of important legal documents.

• Create an itinerary that includes details about each destination. Give copies to emergency contacts at home. Keep a copy of your itinerary with you at all times.

• If you will be staying in a hotel, inform the staff ahead of time of your specific needs so they can be prepared to assist you.

• Travel during the time of day that is best for the person with dementia.

• Keep in mind that changes in the environment can trigger wandering. Even for a person in the early stages, new environments may be more difficult to navigate. When possible, avoid places that are highly congested, which can trigger disorientation and confusion. Provide supervision at all times; do not leave a person with dementia alone.

There are also special considerations when it comes to air travel. At times, the level of activity can be distracting, overwhelming or difficult to understand for someone with dementia. If you are traveling by plane, keep the following in mind:

• Avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections. Ask about airport escort services that can help you get from place to place.

• Inform the airline and airport medical service department ahead of time of your needs to make sure they can help you. Most airlines will work with you to accommodate special needs.

• If appropriate, tell airport employees, screeners and in-flight crew members that you are traveling with someone who has dementia.

• Even if walking is not difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place.

• Allow for extra time.

Tuders suggested people who are traveling with someone with Alzheimer’s should also make sure to frequently ask their traveling companion if they are hot or cold or if they are hungry or nervous. Someone with Alzheimer’s might not even think to bring up such concerns.

Tuders also suggested Alzheimer’s sufferers have something to keep their hands busy, as this may alleviate some stress.

Having a GPS tracker to put on clothing is also an important option to utilize, she said.

Tuders said even changes in decorations around a home can lead to anxiety for someone in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s.

And an important factor to remember is that as the disease progresses, what was once enjoyable, such as sitting by a sparkling Christmas tree, might be disorienting and even frightening.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline 800-272-3900 is also available — even on holidays — to provide additional information and assistance.

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