Can I take my mother (who has dementia) on a 15-hour flight to fulfill her wish to visit the Sequoia National Park?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 10, 2016
Alzi asked...

my mother has middle stage AD combined with vascular dementia. her one wish is to travel one more time to see the Redwood trees in Sequoia National Park in Calif. That is a 15 hour flight and another 6 hour drive from where we live now in Israel. Physically she is capable of making the trip - mentally I don't think so. we had a bad experience 2 years ago when travelling to L.A. for a wedding and she wandered out of the hotel room. Luckily she was able to come up with my brother's name who lives there and the police brought her back to the hotel. She was also quite confused most of the trip although she loved seeing family members. She believes that she can fly without any problems - "i've always flown before" and doesn't see any reason not to make this trip. I'm torn between granting her this wish (she cries everytime she mentions Sequoia and has fond memories of the place) and having to tell her it isn't possible. I think either way i'm going to feel guilty - if i take her i'm sure it will make her condition worse and if i don't I will be denying the one thing she really wants to do. As confused as she is at times this is one issue that keeps coming up and she really knows what she is talking about. what to do?

Expert Answers

For 20 years, physical therapist Connie Lambert has worked with individuals and families with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. As founder and CEO of Our Generations, LLC, she provides specialized dementia and behavioral management training for corporations, facilities, and groups.

You are faced with a very difficult decision. When individuals with your mother's condition are removed from their environment and daily routine the symptoms of dementia typically become significantly worse. You are correct in assuming the trip would be very difficult and your reluctance in well-founded. I am certain you wish to make your mother happy by making her travel wishes come true. However, individuals with dementia often talk about wanting to do something or visit someplace from their past with considerable regularity or repetition. Although this repetitive discussion can become an intense desire, that does not necessarily mean they would actually enjoy doing so. It is one of the many paradoxes of dementia. Leaving the security of their safe, daily environment often causes serious anxiety, and greatly increases their confusion and further impairs their ability to think. That is very difficult to handle on the road. It is a very scary experience for the person with dementia and very difficult for the family member traveling with them. When my patient’s families seek my advice on this type of issue I advice extreme caution in undertaking such a journey. I advise they weigh the actual necessity of such a trip with the significant potential for possible damage. I wish you the very best in making this difficult decision. Connie Lambert, PhD, PT, CCM

Community Answers

Ladislav volicer, md answered...

I do not think that she can make the trip by herself but if she had a companion who would always keep track of her, it may be possible.

Deborah cooke answered...

Hi. Your situation is not an uncommon one among caregivers. I agree with Dr. Volicer and Dr. Lambert. This journey may be too much for your mother and you. To Dr. Volicer's point, a companion would probably be necessary. I just learned of a company that will work with you to provide a caregiver to travel with you. They seem to have resources world wide and may be worth a peek if you really want to pursue this vacation.

Another option is to bring "Sequoia" to your mother. Importing a tree is impossible, but with a bit of creativity you may be able to create a Sequoia-like environment. It won't be the same, but it may be a very good substitute.

  • Find out what she loved most about this trip.
  • Consider creating a large poster (wall size even) of a Sequoia and post on her bedroom wall.
  • Bring in some pine fragrance and bark.
  • Play the sound of birds on a CD player.
  • Mimic a hike.
  • If there is a meal she associates with the trip, make it and serve it to her as if she was in a restaurant.

This could be an event strictly for your mother. If she is in an assisted living arrangement, this could be a group activity. Start thinking and have some fun with it.

All my best thoughts and wishes.

Jennyb answered...

Whether travel with a dementia patient is possible depends very much on the particular dementia patient and on the caregiver. I was able to travel with my husband when he was Stage 5 AD, all the way across country (California to the East coast), even multi-city business trips. Yes, the symptoms are likely to get worse while you're on travel, because of the stress and the excitement and the disruption in routine. I had to physically hang onto his belt in airports to make sure I didn't lose him. Travel is not likely to make the symptoms permanently worse, however. For tips on what to consider in making your decision, and how to minimize problems with, e.g., the wandering you experienced last time, see:

A fellow caregiver answered...

My father is 92 and has alzheimers. He wanted to go to Alaska. Since I felt like this would be his last vacation, I thought I should make it something special. So I took him to Alaska. It was a disaster from start to finish. Very stressful for both of us, and difficult to get over. I learned just how much fear people with alzheimers experience, even if they don't show it. It's not something I would ever do again.