8 Ways to Improve Vacations when Dementia Is Involved

8 Ways to Improve Vacations when Dementia Is Involved post page

By Valerie FeurichMay 26th, 2021

8 Ways to Improve Vacations when Dementia Is Involved


Strategies You Can Try to Decrease Stress and Increase Joyful Moments
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Original article by Teepa Snow, updated by Valerie Feurich
After living in quarantine for over a year, and with things slowly beginning to open up again, many people are ready and looking forward to getting out of the house for a little trip or vacation. However, when someone in your family is living with dementia, this may create some unique challenges.

Being around unfamiliar people, or being around familiar people who are doing unusual or unexpected things, can cause distress in people living with dementia. This, in turn, can turn into surprising challenges for everyone.

To help you navigate and plan for these potential challenges, we’ve put together some things you’ll want to be aware of for each dementia state, as well as a list of 8 strategies you may want to try:
Early-State Dementia
For people living in the early states of dementia or care partners who are totally stressed out, vacations can be absolutely terrific or major disasters. Brain changes can trigger emotional reactions as well as limit thinking and communication, which is why you need to increase your awareness and have a Plan B.

Creating a vacation that has built-in flexibility and tolerance of last-minute modifications can make all the difference for success. Getting from Point A to Point B can cause more strain than ever before, as complex signage, overhead auditory information, and the constant movement of people and luggage make comprehension and direction following more difficult and complex.
Mid-State Dementia
For individuals in mid-states of dementia, changing abilities and modified schedules, travel plans, and engagement expectations can either make or break the vacation for everyone involved. Smaller, shorter, simpler, closer, and more predictable vacations or breaks can really create a more enjoyable and relaxing experience for all participating. The idea of one last big and special vacation tends to wear both the planner and the doer out long before the vacation is over.

By mid-state dementia, things that are new and different take an enormous amount of effort to cope with day after day after day. When the person is having difficulty getting through a typical day in a familiar setting without steady direction and much guidance, adding on the challenge of a new place and different food, drink, activities, and routines can start off as a great adventure, then rapidly deteriorate into a dangerous and frightening situation due to stimulation overload.

If you are wanting to take a trip or outing at this point in the brain change journey, consider possible trial runs first with shorter visits or jaunts to gauge how the person does. Experiencing an overnight at a local hotel with the pool and breakfast on-site can help determine whether or not a longer trip makes sense.

Making sure car keys are secured and that there is a portable alarm for the door, so that you would be alerted should the person become wakeful or confused at night and try to leave or head home. A simple peel-and-stick battery-operated unit is available at local DIY centers, and are great to have along when traveling.
Late-State Dementia
If you're looking to go on a much-needed, refreshing vacation while the person living with late-state dementia stays home, there are some things you can do to ensure your person left at home gets all of their needs met. You'll want to plan in advance and rehearse situations if possible, so that the routine and patterns that make up that person’s life can be sustained and supported.

Ensuring that a different care person can use techniques and rhythms that match what typically happens can bolster security for the person and relax the care partners who are taking the vacation.

It is surely possible a person in the later states of dementia could enjoy simple changes and breaks in routine, sitting outside in the sunshine, feeling the air rushing by through an open car or van window, or smelling the fresh-cut grass while swinging on the porch, can be a vacation from the inside of the house or building.

Going swimming rather than taking a bath might create a moment of joy or bring back a summer of long, long ago. Swaying to a hummed song or listening to crickets may allow the person to take a vacation we can only imagine, back in time or to a magical place.
Additional strategies you may want to try:
  1. Brightly colored, matching outfits:
    As hokey as it sounds, wearing brightly colored and matching outfits with hats, if possible, serves multiple purposes: If the person living with dementia becomes separated from you, it is much easier to describe what they are wearing if you are wearing the same thing. It also makes you more likely to be noticed by others. Additionally, hats are generally easier to spot in crowded spaces and open areas.
  2. Identification tags:
    Making sure both of you have identification tags on that are readily visible can help if something were to happen. Care partners are notorious for thinking only the person living with dementia would have an accident or illness, and never considering the importance of having themselves labelled as a care partner with information about their person as well as who to contact and how if they were incapacitated.
  3. Less busy travel times:
    Consider traveling on lighter traffic times and days. Many airlines and railways can provide you with info about less popular or busy flights or routes. Sometimes space and quiet trumps speed and bargains.
  4. Use family restrooms:
    Make use of family restrooms. What typically is not problematic at home or in a routine setting can become frustrating and confusing when in a busy public restroom with a variety of traditional fixtures, combined with automatic devices such as soap dispensers, faucets, toilets, hand drying systems, and paper towel dispensers. It can be so overwhelming that the person may go in and come right back out, forgetting to do one or more of the vital functions. It is easier by far to take turns in the family space or even share it, for added security.
  5. Refillable water bottles:
    Carrying refillable water bottles that hook on or snap onto a fanny pack or backpack can provide ready hydration. The snap-on bottle can also be used for other drinks that you get along the way, keeping hands free and bags at a minimum, yet providing sips when you want them.
  6. Games, music, and more:
    Loading up an iPod with favorite tunes and bringing along an iPad or other tablet with various visually engaging apps can help both parties fill the waiting time with something a little more engaging and enjoyable than just sitting. Road trips are once again opportunities for noticing things and game-playing, although the duration might be shorter.
  7. Extra clothing:
    Carrying along an extra set of clothing from the inside out (perhaps for both of you), a container of wipes, hand sanitizer, a set of gloves, and a couple large sealable garbage bags can make all the difference in the world when stress or distress surprises a digestive system and unexpected outcomes result in a need for a rapid and effective response.

    It is hard enough to manage problematic body functions at home, but in public settings or unfamiliar places, the challenge is much greater. In my experience, it is much better to have a set of clothes you don’t use than not have a set you need.
  8. Quiet spaces:
    Airport chapels or prayer spaces may provide a quiet place for recharging batteries and finding an oasis in the busy flow of people, noise, and action.

    If the care partners or family members are going on vacation but the person living with dementia is not participating, consider carefully and thoughtfully the value and importance of sharing the details of the plan or even knowledge of the trip itself with the person living with dementia.

    If the person is a worrier, then make sure to keep in regular contact and affirm that everyone is fine and enjoying their summer. This may be much more beneficial than trying to help the person understand that the train, plane, or cruise ship you are on is not the one in the news and that no one is in harm’s way. This also minimizes the need to rush home when the person has a panic attack because they think you have been gone for a month when it has really only been three days.

    If, on the other hand, the person has always enjoyed traveling, it is possible that daily video calls (Skype, FaceTime, Zoom) may help the person feel actively involved and part of the vacation. Your loved one can feel connected without having to deal with all the drama and trauma of the actual trip as health conditions or mobility issues would make for a negative experience instead of a positive one.

So, one final thought about this season of vacationing. The difference between a vacation and being unemployed is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

  • Do I have something to go back to that offers me value and purpose?
  • Is this time away from my life and routine refreshing me or is it enforced because I am not actually being allowed to do that which I feel is important?
  • Do I feel like my time away from work is providing moments of joy and energy or do I long for my routine and structure?
Being on vacation can be empowering while being unemployed can create a sense of being powerless. Maybe when someone is living with dementia they need a vacation from being cared for and instead get a chance to be the person who offers something of value and importance.

Maybe they need a vacation from us and our view of the world, so they can find enjoyment in their moments of travel where we cannot go. And maybe, just maybe, the person living with dementia needs to be meaningfully employed/occupied on a regular basis, doing something of value and purpose with recognition, so that a vacation makes sense.
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6 Comments on “8 Ways to Improve Vacations when Dementia Is Involved”

    1. Hi Hannah,

      My name is Alejandro and I work as a mentor for Positive Approach to Care. Thanks for your interest in the article, it has been updated to include a PDF option at the bottom of the article.

  1. Thank you so much for these great tips about taking a vacation. I have been very hesitant to try to go on vacation but I think it would be a great opportunity to get away from some of our every day challenges. Your tips are so helpful, I think that I can make it happen!

  2. Once it is totally safe we need to travel to another state to bury cremation ashes from parent’s death which happened during lockdown. I need to take my spouse with me in auto on about 5-6 day round trip. My Mother wished to be located with my father and brother so there is not local destination that would be acceptable.
    My husband would be described as late mid stage dementia. He has no wandering or ADL issues yet. He does have language deterioration( therfore trouble communicating ), deterioration of memory, and worries worry about strangers in the home (?paranoid?).
    I know he would deteriorate with another caregiver or ALF and would probably get very anxious with strangers in home. Suggestions are appreciated. Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Gail,
      My name is Alejandro and I work for PAC as a mentor. Sorry to hear about the passing, sounds like you are preparing as best as possible. Taking into account the things that you have mentioned you know about your husband is a great way to start putting together a plan. Would this be a road trip or some other mode of travel?

      We are happy to try and support with more ideas for your situation. Here are a couple of options that you can explore.
      Free 30 minute consult: https://teepasnow.com/services/consulting/phone-consultations/
      Problem Solving with PAC: https://teepasnow.com/services/webinars/ (this offering would allow you to share your story and get some tips, it is live streamed for other people to see)

  3. I work, individually, as a memory care coach with people having Alz/Dementia. I create an individual plan for each person according to their interests, physical and mental capabilities. I also coach family and family CGs to ease expectations and stress. The more they know, the less they worry.
    I, deeply, appreciate your article. Because it reaffirms my suggestions when I’m talking with family CGs about appropriate expectations for travelling.
    I just joined this blog and this is my first read. I can tell that it will be a great resource.

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