Summers in Massachusetts are wonderful. After months of ice and snow, the change in seasons finally allows us to enjoy long-awaited rituals. For many people, one of these is a summer vacation.
When you are caring for someone with dementia, the thought of a vacation may be wonderful, but the actual reality of the experience can be stressful and complicated. Caregiving is a 24/7 job wherever you are. Dementia doesn’t go away like some of the other worries we leave at home while on vacation. In fact, the change in routine can make symptoms even worse.
If you decide that travelling is important and that it brings value to you and your care partner’s life, the following suggestions may help make the process easier and safer for both of you:
- Travel with more information than you think you need. Bring copies of medication lists, doctor’s names/numbers, a photo of your loved one, copies of medical proxies/emergency contacts.
- Register your care partner in the Alzheimer Association’s Safe Return program, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer's or a related dementia.
- Plan everything in advance. This includes meals, lodging, transportation and activities. It is better to know in advance what some of your challenges may be than to be blindsided in the moment.
- Maintain your current routine and structure as much as possible while you are away.
- Schedule a dress rehearsal. Go for a day trip that includes traveling, activities and meals. This will give you an opportunity to practice some of the challenges you may face on your actual trip.
- Bring along another family member and/or a professional caregiver.
- Expect the unexpected. Even with all of the planning you will do, something will happen that you could not have anticipated. 1) Accept this in advance and 2) try to keep a sense of humor, it is what it is.
If the prospect of all the planning feels overwhelming, you may decide that travelling with your care partner is not a viable option. Additionally, you as a full-time caregiver may need a break. An occasional vacation from caregiving is a crucial part of maintaining the ability to provide care over the long term. It is something caregivers do for themselves that positively impacts their care partner, both in the short and long-run.
In these cases, look for memory care communities that offer something called “Respite Care.” These are temporary assisted living stays – typically ranging between several days and several weeks. The benefit to you is peace of mind as well as the chance to recharge. Your care partner enjoys their own vacation in a community designed specifically to support persons with dementia; a win-win for both of you.