Traveling is an activity that comes with great joy as well as trepidation as your loved one’s disease progresses. It is wonderful to continue visiting family and seeing new places but doing so creates new challenges. Problems include the obvious disorientation and fear of getting separated, but with proper preparation the upside can be so much greater as you create memories together and with your family and friends. If your plans include air travel, there are additional challenges. We have traveled a lot, so, on a recent trip, I had not anticipated a problem with super crowded airports, very loud announcements, or layovers in airports without family restrooms (really, LAX?). The airport experience was overwhelming for my husband and he hung on to me as if his life depended on it. I tried to find a quiet place to sit during our layover but in some large airports, those spots are hard to find. When we arrived home, I decided to start a check list to make future travel more appealing to both of us. These are a few of my tips: 1. When possible, travel with family and/or close friends. Having children and grandchildren along not only creates an opportunity for extra laughs but family and friends can help with your loved one’s comfort level since there is familiarity in an unfamiliar setting.
2. Make a list of things to pack several days ahead of time and review it multiple times. I also ran the list by one of my husband’s friends and he added a few things. As an aside, collar stays have never been on ANY of my packing lists!
3. If traveling by car, look for places along your route that have family restrooms. If there are none, research state law where you are traveling to be sure there are no problems if one of you must go in the “wrong” door. Warning: Be careful in Oklahoma!
4. Consider staying at a chain hotel for the duration of your trip. For example, whether you are in Dallas or Pittsburgh, all Hampton Inns look the same which could help your loved one feel less disoriented.
5. Consider a destination that has good day trips so every evening you can “go back home” to the same hotel which may help your loved one feel grounded. (Cruises are good for this purpose as well.)
6. Consider keeping the restroom light on overnight to help your loved one find their way in the night when needed.
7. If traveling by airplane –
Make sure you are seated together. These days you must pay extra for the privilege of choosing your seat. Even so, a couple of times I have found that we have been moved and separated. When this happens, I explain our situation to the gate attendant and have always been successful in getting us back together. (Even though this is a comfort concern for us, it is a safety concern for the airline.) However, you don’t want this to be a confrontational encounter as it might upset your loved one. Remember, kindness matters or, as my mother always said, “you catch more flies with honey”.
Consider checking your bags to avoid confusion in the pandemonium of disembarking.
Most airlines now allow anyone with any kind of disability to board early. Take advantage of this so you can get to your seat before the airplane gets crowded and so your loved one doesn’t feel rushed.
Consider passing a note to the flight attendant about your situation. I have small cards that read “My husband has early on-set Alzheimer’s. He has difficulty communicating and making quick decisions. Your patience and kindness are appreciated.” Every single flight attendant has mentioned that they appreciated knowing as it helped when engaging with him, but, more importantly, it’s good information for safety reasons. Note: Even though you include a comment about your situation in the “special instructions” box when you make your reservation, I have found that it rarely transfers to those at the gate or on the airplane.
Learn how to open the lavatory door from the outside. Muscle memory will likely kick in, but it’s probably good information anyway.
Those lavatories are small, but your loved one is already likely disoriented from the hustle and bustle of the airport, boarding, etc. If possible, you should try to squeeze in there with them to avoid unnecessary problems. You might get the occasional accusatory eyebrow, but who cares.
This is it for now. I’m sure my checklist will grow as we continue to journey out as long as this unexpected life journey will allow.
About the Author:
Patti cares for her husband Steve who was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s in 2015 at the age of 58.