7 Things I Learned Traveling With My Father, Who Has Dementia

By | July 13, 2022

As I write this, I am in Ohio for the summer caring for my father, who has advanced dementia. My mother has been her caregiver since she was diagnosed almost 8 years ago, and she suddenly passed away a few months ago, going back and forth in our world. That wasn’t really in my two sisters ’plans, and Dad and I soon became caregivers, having to travel through his illness, finances, and daily life.

He doesn’t know who I am most days or he thinks I’m his wife, sister, or mother. At this point, I don’t think we can be with him and it’s not worth it either. Interestingly, today he woke up and asked me if we were in Sanibel, like on Sanibel Island, the place we went – twice – when my mother was still alive and we were determined to travel as a family, even as a member of that family. with a memory span maybe of 13 seconds.

The whole time we were in Sanibel, he thought we were in Bay Village, Ohio, where he raised his family.

Studies Recommend Travel For Those Diagnosed With Dementia

Despite the paradox, a recent study makes the case for travel as a stimulant for those suffering from dementia, similar to the way a doctor suggests exercise or music. This is the case in the early days of dementia, when new experiences have an impact. My parents boarded Viking River Cruises and traveled to visit family in North Carolina and Upstate New York, but as the disease progressed, the reality was that the person with dementia may have no idea where he or she is, and that may more confused with them.

As a caregiver, it is important to set realistic expectations. These are the things I learned on the trip with my father.

1. Don’t Expect Miracles

In the early stages of dementia, the family member may be excited to go out and have some recognition of where they are traveling or an idea that they are on an adventure, which is a positive thing. As dementia grew, which my father and I experienced, the new environments became confusing. And even if a sunset or incredible meal can be a positive experience, the person with dementia will soon forget it and reflect on other memories.

In my father’s case, he loved his time as an Air Force pilot and that was the clearest, fondest memory for him.

2. This Is Not A Vacation For The Caregiver

No matter what effort we made, or how many times we tried to disturb my father, he still needed to know where his wife Betty was at all times. The constant question, “Where’s Betty?” is second only to “Where are we?” followed by “Where’s Arnie?” referring to his constant companion, a Shih Tzu named Arnold Palmer.

My mom was brave, wanted to drink wine on the lanai overlooking the beach, and enjoyed the restaurants we liked, but she always knew she had a responsibility for her husband. At one point, it wasn’t a vacation for the caregiver, although she loved being surrounded by her girls, laughing, telling stories, and trying to survive my sister’s super strong old trends.

3. It’s Best to Bring a Little Home

We debated for a long time whether we would include my dad’s dog. I was on the side of “Of course, the dog needs to be there” and my sisters took the opposite – “Just one thing to worry about” and “I have enough handle on the plane.”

But our decision was made by the fact that very few beach accommodations allow pets. That didn’t stop Dad from regularly asking questions about his dog, and I highly suggest bringing some memories home to ease the anxious mind of the person with dementia and give them something to focus on.

4. Little Bells Everywhere

A person with dementia tends to wander, and this can happen at all times of the night. Make sure all doors are locked. We put cowbells on every door. Sometimes carrying portable cameras that you can set up that can sense motion is a good way. They will ping your phone when something moves. It is best to take accommodations on the first floor for the same reason. In our case, on the beach, the condos on the ground floor allowed us to walk out to the beach. meaning less fear for my father and less chance of falling.

5. Prepare For the Worst

People with dementia seem to have to use a bathroom in a very much regular basis. Depends on Depends is a necessity but, for the dignity of your family member, they will want to use the bathroom… a lot. So find out where the bathrooms are and don’t travel far to decent facilities. You may have an accident.

I spent 20 minutes in the men’s room of a famous restaurant on the island because Dad pooped and it exploded out of Depend and into his jeans. Remove yourself and help the person in need. Believe me, everyone in that men’s room understands our dilemma.

6. Have Something to Cover the Person with Dementia

Although my dad loves to read anything, he rarely understands anything, but it gives his eyes and mind something to focus on in a short moment. We learned to have a lot of literature on the plane and around the condo, especially your magazines with lots of pictures, just like any Sports Illustrated – and in my father’s case, especially the Swimsuit Issue.

Note: You may find your parent somewhat flirty with their advanced dementia. My dad actually told one of my friends that he was “available” 3 months after my mom died. I almost fell over.

7. Alert The Hotel Or Resort On The Situation

While this is not a disability according to ADA guidelines, meaning you and your family are 100 percent responsible for the family member with dementia, it is not painful to alert management. In the second year we traveled to Florida, we stayed at the stunning South Seas Resort, and everyone was very respectful of the needs and limitations of my father and our family, making sure we got a first floor beachfront condo for his comfort. after the third. -floor option scared him because he realized he could fall.

There is really no end to the advice I can give about traveling with a family member with dementia. In the advanced stages, they will get little to travel but the rest of the family will benefit from supporting each other. Studies that recommend travel as a cognitive benefit are likely to refer to the earlier stages of dementia, where there is still some study and greater awareness of the human environment.

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