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Vacation Tips for Caregivers
reposted from the Big Sioux Alzheimers Association

Plan a manageable vacation.

Vacations are a time for families to share new experiences, see interesting places, and get some rest and relaxation. If you are the caregiver of a person with Alzheimer's, it will be important for you to consider the stage of the person's illness, any impairments that might affect traveling, and what adaptations can be made to make a vacation relaxing and enjoyable for everyone. Here are some suggestions to consider before you take your next vacation:  

Think about your expectations.

If you choose to travel with the family member, you'll have many of the same responsibilities you have at home. In that sense, this will be a "working" vacation. If you're interested in rest and relaxation for yourself, you may want to consider taking time away with a friend and arranging respite care for the person in your home or at a local care facility.  

Stick with the familiar.

Consider vacationing in ways the person was accustomed to before the onset of the disease. For example, if the person has never traveled by airplane, it would probably be better to drive.Or, if the person has never taken a beach vacation, choose something more familiar such as a trip to a nearby attraction. Spending a short time traveling to a destination may be most helpful to the person.  

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Stay away from busy places ...

or from situations that may cause the person to feel overstimulated or anxious. In most cases, large cities such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles might make the person feel confused or anxious. Large amusement parks might also pose problems. Visiting a relative who has a large family, with a busy, bustling household, may not be a relaxing time.  

Keep your vacation simple.

For example, avoid the temptation to plan a fast-paced sightseeing trip. Instead, plan a trip that involves as few changes as possible. Escorted tours can be enjoyable if you are traveling with a group of people you know well and who understand your caregiving responsibilities.  

Consider a short trip.

If you're unsure how the person will react to traveling, consider a shortened version of a long trip. If the person reacts positively, you can return at a later time for a longer visit.


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Choose a "fail-safe" option.

Pick a vacation package that allows you to leave early--without financial penalty--if the person becomes ill or wants to return home.  

Develop a
list of destinations...

and contact information for family members at home as well as a list of medical professionals along your travel route for you and your loved one. Alzheimer's Association Chapters are an excellent source of medical and social service contacts.  

Advise airlines, hotels, or tour operators ...

that you're traveling with a person who has memory impairment, and provide some examples of your safety concerns and special needs. For example, you may want to reserve a wheelchair and plan for special meals prior to an airplane flight, or let the tour operator know that your family member cannot be unaccompanied.


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Prepare identification items ...

for your traveling companion. Make certain that your family member wears an identification bracelet or clothing tag with his/her full name, and your name. You will want to keep all credit cards, travelers' checks, and passports with you for security.  

Never leave your loved one alone.

If you're on a tour sponsored by your church or a local civic group, you may be able to rely occasionally on help from friends. Never ask a stranger to watch the person. A person who's acquainted with the effects of the disease and doesn't know you or your loved one won't understand how to react in a difficult situation.  

Take security precautions.

For example, if you're traveling by car, automatic locks are useful. To prevent the person from exiting the car, you may want to remove the locks from his/her side of the car. In most cases, the person should sit next to the driver and not in the back seat. Keep in mind that automatic windows can be dangerous.  

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Prepare your traveling companion.

Telling your loved one about the trip in advance may help him or her feel part of the decision-making process. Or, you may only need to inform him/her shortly before leaving with a simple explanation: "We're going on a trip together to Texas. I'm going to start packing some of your things. Can you help me pack this suitcase?" Or, you may find it less disruptive simply to announce your plans on the day you're leaving.  

Time your travel.

If he/she travels better at a specific time of the day, you may want to make plans accordingly. Take breaks along the way for snacks.  
  Anticipate and avoid delays. If you're traveling by train, bus, or plane, have a friend drive you to the departure point to relieve you of parking the car and handling the luggage. Call ahead to determine if your departure will be delayed. (Many people find it disturbing to wait for hours in crowded terminals). In addition, bring along items such as magazines, audiotapes, or a deck of cards to entertain and relax your family member.  

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Plan ahead for restroom use.

If the person is a man and you're a woman, or vice versa, you may want to bring along a friend or family member or solicit the help of a staff member who can accompany him/her to the restroom. Or, it may be helpful to provide extra protection by using adult incontinence products.  
  Allow for extra time. Avoid the temptation to cram several activities into one day. Instead, plan for a single activity and have a couple of alternatives in mind if there's extra time available. In addition, you and the person may need more time in between activities to relax and rest.  
  Maintain familiar eating patterns and times. If your family member is used to eating at the kitchen table every evening at home, it's probably not wise to plan for a dinner in a crowded restaurant. You may want to find a very quiet restaurant, use room service, or stay at a hotel or motel that has a kitchen available. Also, serve him/her the same type of foods at the same time of day that you do at home.  
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  Maintain daily routines. For example, if the person bathes or showers every morning, you should try to maintain that routine.  
  Have faith in your own knowledge ... ... and in your judgment and experience. No one knows the individual better than you do. While a growing number of hotel and tour operators have oriented their employees in dealing with persons with dementia, you understand best what works and what doesn't. Have confidence in your abilities and in your loving concern as a caregiver and enjoy your special time together.  

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