We can’t be expected to leave the unhappy and angry parts of ourselves at the door before coming in. We all need to feel that we can bring the whole of ourselves to the people who care about us. — Fred Rogers, in Life’s Journeys according to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way
Are you thinking you have to miss the annual family vacation because you are taking care of a loved one? Maybe not. With some specific and diligent planning, you may still be able to get away and have an enjoyable time.
Of course, the first idea may be to investigate and consider respite care in your area. Respite care provides short-term breaks that can relieve stress, restore energy and promote balance in your life. In-home respite care is available from home health care agencies, and there are residential programs available.
If you would like to take your loved one alone with you on a flight or a driving trip, it can be done. AgingCare.com [ᴬ] provided the following tips for planning a vacation with an elderly loved one:
Check with the elder’s physician and get traveling clearance before booking any travel. With the physician, discuss whether the destination you’ve chosen is appropriate for your loved one’s abilities and limitations. Does the patient need medications for possible anxiety that might arise? And remember to get your loved one’s prescriptions all filled before you leave.
If you loved one has a wheelchair, walker or other mobility equipment, make sure it’s going to fit in the vehicle you choose. If flying, request seat assignments in the rows designated for disabled travelers. If walking is difficult, consider requesting a wheelchair so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get from place to place in the airport. When booking hotels, request a room on the first floor.
Try to be realistic about the amount of activity, walking and traveling your loved one can do. Keep the trip simple. If your loved one has limited mobility, renting a one-story lake-front cottage within driving distance will be more enjoyable than a whirlwind jaunt overseas, or a walking-intense trek to Disney World. Plan your itinerary carefully. Allow plenty of time for rest and don’t over-schedule.
If your loved one is going to be sitting in a car or on a plane for extended periods, buy supportive stockings to prevent blood clots and numbness. Pack light clothes which can be layered. Take basic medical information with you, in case of emergency. Other essentials to have on hand at all times, especially in the summer heat, are a hat, sunscreen, snacks and plenty of water. Older people get dehydrated quickly.
Additionally, consider the following information from Rosemary Allender of Bowie’s Family Eldercare Management:
Vacation can be a challenging time for the elderly and their families. Deciding where to go is one of the key factors in having an enjoyable time. For seniors who have transitioned out of their homes into a facility, the choice can be difficult. Sometimes the best choice may be separate vacations.
When making plans consider the cognitive level of your loved one. If they are alert and oriented, you have more flexibility. However, if your family member has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, consider whether their dementia level is mild, moderate or severe.
If their dementia is mild, long-term memory is still intact. They will recognize most relatives and enjoy family celebrations. They can perhaps participate in planning. Review plans frequently with your loved one prior to the vacation. This really helps them to feel included and like a person whose ideas are still given respect.
If the diagnosis you are dealing with is moderate dementia, this is where you must make an honest evaluation of the family member’s situation. Maintaining their normal routine may, in fact, be more important than taking them on vacation. Rosemary suggests three S’s for dealing with the family member with moderate dementia: Simple plans, Small gatherings, and Short duration. In addition, behavioral and personality changes may be starting to occur. Does your family member wander? If so, how would you handle that in unfamiliar territory? One way might be to bring along an identification tag for wearing around the neck. These types of issues, along with memory issues could make the vacation uncomfortable for everyone. Finally, too much talking about the vacation before it happens could lead to increased stress, anxiety and fear. Like children, older relatives with dementia can sense your anxiety and stress levels and start to feel afraid themselves.
If your elder relative has severe dementia, you have probably already realized that they cannot comfortably participate in a traveling vacation of any kind. Any vacation for them should take place in very familiar surroundings, or not at all. Consider making arrangements for familiar friends and family members to visit more often while you are away.
Never let guilt get in the way of making appropriate plans for yourself and your own family. You must take care of yourself. If you get ill or have a stroke, who will care for your elderly loved one? Trust your own instincts. You know your loved one best.
Thank you for reading. Stay well. See you next week.
[ᴬ] The article, ‘Caregiving Tips for Traveling with Seniors’ by Marlo Sollitto originally appeared on AgingCare.com.
AgingCare.com is an online resource that connects family caregivers and shares informative articles, provides answers and support through an interactive Caregiver Forum, and offers the ability to search for senior living options for elderly loved ones.