Is travel okay for someone with dementia?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it safe for someone with dementia to travel?

Expert Answer

Paula Spencer Scott 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.

Yes, it's possible for someone with dementia to travel safely. Let common sense be your guide, along with some simple travel strategies.

By plane:

  • Someone with cognitive impairment should not travel unescorted.
  • Stay together in the airport at all times.
  • Don't rush the person in security lines. Some airports offer family-friendly lanes -- they're not just for people traveling with young children.
  • Schedule flights early in the day, when the person may be in the best spirits and you're less likely to be marooned overnight in case of bad weather or other delays. It's worth the extra price to fly nonstop. If connections are necessary, allow plenty of time.
  • Pack snacks and provide water, since dehydration is a risk for seniors. Use the bathroom just before the flight to help avoid the need for the person to do so on the airplane.
  • Bring something for the person to do with his hands: a puzzle book, a photo album, knitting, a textured rubbery ball to hold, playing cards.

By car:

  • It's ideal to skip a long journey by car, but when a car trip is necessary, avoid traveling on peak days. It may be better to spend one long day in the car than to break up a trip, because the unfamiliarity of the overnight stop could be upsetting.
  • Stop as often as needed for comfort's sake, but stay with the person at gas stations and restaurants. New places invite confusion.
  • Play the person's favorite music in the car. Many people with dementia find music calming. And it's better than audio books or talk stations, which can be hard for the person to follow.
  • If you must stay in a hotel, remain with the person at all times. Get one large room with two beds rather than separate or adjoining rooms.
  • Bring something for the person to do with his hands: a puzzle book, a photo album, knitting, a textured rubbery ball to hold, playing cards.