Can we travel with parents with dementia?

7 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

We'd like to take my parents to Hawaii, their favorite place in the whole world, one last time. They live in an assisted living facility, both have dementia, but they currently go out unescorted for walks. They are registered with Safe Return and we would bring a baby monitor. Can they stay in a condo adjacent to mine? Any advice or recommendations?


Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

The answer is...maybe. Traveling with someone who has dementia requires being aware of many different factors. You've already thought about wandering, for example, which is wise. The biggest factor is your parents' condition. They may do all right with care and supervision, especially if they function relatively independently now. However, travel -- especially long distances and by air -- can be a major stressor, and stress can worsen dementia. One or both of your parents may become confused, upset, or show more memory loss than previously. If you do go, be sure to have seats together on the plane and remain with your parents constantly. A separate hotel room is probably not the safest idea; a suite with only one door is ideal. Another consideration is your parents' reaction to such a trip: Do they seem genuinely excited? If they can't remember plans for such a vacation from visit to visit, it may be simpler to spend lower-key time closer to home with them. You have to weigh your expectations and memories for this kind of family trip with where they are now and how they might respond to it.


Community Answers

Littlesister answered...

Think about the comfort level of two sets of people - your family and your parents. Talk to them. Do they sound enthusiastic about the trip? Are they comfortable with staying in a new place? How nervous are you for their well-being and safety? If everyone seems onboard, go for it! One suggestion I have is to explore lodging options. Perhaps instead of staying in separate condos, get one big enough for everyone so that you'd be likely to hear them if there was a problem. Another option is staying in a hotel suite. The pricing may be comparable to renting two separate condos, yet offer a better opportunity for support and supervision without compromising too much privacy.


Mattie88 answered...

We took my mom in a wheelchair with many needs on multiple trips. She had dementia and depression. I took an aide with me to help with care so I could enjoy my time too. It was wonderful and I have many memories and pictures that make me smile today. She passed this July and I have no regrets with taking her on a cruise, to Disney and Miami Beach. A place she loved. They do not know the whole time, but the moments they do, you will cherish forever. My husband was a critic until he went with us. I couldn't leave him home after the first trip he took with us. Mother would smile. If you would like more information I would be glad to offer more. Do it! Just take someone for help. You will all enjoy it like you want.


Piver answered...

My husband, 83, was diagnosed with Alz 7 years ago and is at stage 5. Still walking, talking, feeding himself with help. We, 3 generation family, take short trips of 1-6 days and take him along. It's stimulating and good for him. We have help to bring along which relieves me. I do all the things I do at home: set up flashlites to light the way to the bathroom, keep bathroom light on, block doors with furniture, have the help sleep on the way to the outside door. We stay in suites or condos all together. Finding food he can or will eat can be a problem. We carry some food like bananas, peanut butter, bread, cookies, hot chocolate powder with us. I suggest you try some short trips first and see how they work. Good luck and God Bless! Piver


Mahwah answered...

With input from my SO's doctors I put off traveling. The simple reason is he could become disoriented which would probably cause him to become agitated. Another reason is the safety factor. It is obvious to most people that my SO has problems, and I am very afraid of being taken advantage of in any way. We do maintain a social life by going out to dinner or lunch. He is very happy with that. My goal is to keep him happy and to protect him. We had a great life together for over 20 years.


Debgeb answered...

Last October we took my mom to Cabo San Lucas for our son's wedding. She has mild + dementia. We are so glad we did but we couldn't have done it without having my sister there, staying with her 90% of the time. My mom did find her way around the hotel ok after several tries. It was difficult on her, she was constantly looking for her airline tickets and passport as well as her other belongings spending way too much time in her room. When they are not in their regular element they get very confused and worried they won't remember where things are. You can do it, but only with 1 or 2 caregivers that can help the 2 of them. My mom is so glad she went. She doesn't remember everything but she was there in body, mind and spirit. Our son and his bride were so glad to have her there, that was the best present of all.


Maliesmom answered...

Such a tough call. If you can afford to take them, then I imagine you can afford caregivers at home or away. Of course that is a stranger, so how they react to that may vary. It's great that you can be with them...but it will be far less a vacation for YOU and you need to realize that. My mother who is fairly high functioning in spite of cognitive changes, went with my father to visit the "good" daughter" in FL this past December. They traveled alone, nonstop. I have to say I was very impressed with Southwest and how their website allowed specifying a variety of disabilities. ALso be aware one can get a gate pass for this situation and accompany people until the time of departure to the gates...Anyhow, mom got there okay...and then constantly asked about when she was going home. Made accusations of "those aren't my pills!" and telling my sibling SHE was as bad as me.....they went to DisneyWorld and you can imagine the stimulation/sensory overload. They had a nice meal, then the plan was to stay for fireworks (i.e. they did NOT stay a whole day, only long enough to get there and eat. My sister described my mother as "screaming" "I want to go home!!". And so they'd go back to her place. No fireworks...and when she said that at her place, no calendar, no nothing would convince her she'd just arrived and not been there a month. Instead of conveying they would go home in 10 days, which upset her, my sister used the phrase "the day after tomorrow" which satisfied her and shut her up. Even I was taken by surprise. My sister called within hours having concluded I must have KNOWN how she was and HOW could I think of her being able to make the trip? But I had no idea it would be like this/that. We also discovered that mom had a problem with packing...and she was packing both for herself AND my father. She did not take enough and they wore the same thing, especially her. She also had times of being unable to order at a restaurant...BUT if it was a familiar chain they frequented, i.e. Olive Garden....she could. Hawaii is a long way from pretty much anywhere to get to and find out it's not going to work. And sadly, although it may result in lasting good memories for all...you need to brace yourself for the fact that it might be lost...i.e. my mother, in spite of her upset there in FL...doesn't remember being there at all, let alone the upset, and has spoken even about going to visit! It's a rough road....truly a road less traveled...I can't imagine trying to pack for her. In spite of it...I'm tempted to say go...but be prepared...and it's probably going to be hard to find a 2 bedroom connecting suite with only one door...unless money is no object and you can find a hotel where there is a door from the main hallway that you can double lock that leads to 2 or 3 rooms...and that will be very expensive...maybe if you explain to hotel management and a big suite might otherwise be unoccupied (i.e. off season)...you might get lucky. I would also take a picture of them both and have it on hand just in case...and maybe pass one to hotel management so staff could be aware if they see one of them unescorted...Good luck. I wouldn't have the patience for it...