Traveling and Dementia


It’s time for travels and vacations. Exciting? Yes! Stressful? Double Yes! Getting ready for a trip can be a lot of work and even more so when you are traveling with a loved one who has memory loss. Here are some ideas to help make traveling a bit easier and safer.

Plan wisely.

Avoid travel during peak times. Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend may not be the best option. Instead, travel on a weekday morning. If possible have 2 caregivers on the trip, so caregiving responsibilities can be shared. Don’t schedule a tight layover. Allow you and your loved one time to visit the restroom and get from place to place.

Inform the airline of your situation.

Get a letter from your loved one’s physician for the TSA, so you can bypass potential additional screening that may cause stress. Inform the airline and medical service department ahead of time of your specific needs. Most airlines ask for a 48 hour advance notice. You may want to ask for a wheelchair to travel through the airport.

Choose a hotel with interior doors.

When choosing a place to stay, get a hotel with doors that open to an interior hallway. If your loved one wanders, he or she would have to pass through the lobby, where hopefully someone can redirect. If your loved one has limited mobility, call ahead and ask for a room that is close to the check-in area to keep you from walking your loved one down a long hallway.

Keep hotel staff informed.

Print out a picture of your loved one and give it to the front desk (or text/email a picture from your phone). Ask that it be posted for employees and that if anyone sees your loved one alone, for them to call you. When you are in the room for the night, lock and latch the door. If there are two beds, sleep in the one closest to the door, so your loved one has to cross your path to exit. You can also bring a portable door alarm or childproof doorknob cover. New environments can be confusing, so you may want to label areas like the bathroom. Ask the front desk or concierge about nearby pharmacy and health service options in case needed.

Plan for the unexpected.

A small issue can throw off all your plans. Allow extra time for the unexpected. Pack things to keep your loved one entertained: magazines, familiar music and headphones, activities. Also, bring essentials: snacks, water, disposable garments, wipes, prescription medications, over the counter medications, change of clothes. If traveling by car, subscribe to a roadside assistance program and have 2 drivers available if needed.

Bring copies of important documents.

You never know what will happen when you are away from home, so having important documents with you is vital. Bring your loved one’s identification, emergency contact information, physician’s names and contact information, list of current medications, list of drug/food allergies, copies of legal papers (living will, advanced directives, power of attorney), insurance information and a written travel itinerary. Be sure not to pack any of these documents in your suitcase, lest that bag be lost or stolen. Keep them on your person or lock them in a safe at the hotel.

Have identification for both of you.

It is very important that those with memory loss have identification on their person in case they get separated from their family. This could be a Safe Return Bracelet through the Alzheimer’s Association, a DIY identification bracelet, or a laminated card in their pocket. Whether bracelet or card, it needs to have their name and “In case of Emergency, please call… (at least 2 names and phone numbers).” You should also carry a card that says: “I am traveling with someone who has memory loss.” This way, in case you are in a wreck and are unresponsive, the responders will know to look for your loved one.

Take a picture at the beginning of each day.

Once your loved one is up and dressed, take a picture of him or her on your cell phone (deleting yesterday’s picture). If your loved one wanders off, you will have a current photo to show the authorities.

Keep routines as much as possible.

If your loved one is used to eating 3 meals a day, try to eat 3 meals at the usual times. If your loved one goes to bed around 9, try to keep that routine. Getting off schedule can cause even more confusion. Keep in mind time zone changes and how that might affect what time you eat and when medications need to be given.

Keep your daily itinerary simple.

If you are sightseeing, try to break up the sightseeing adventures into smaller outings instead of one, long outing. It may be that your loved one can only handle sightseeing in the morning and needs to rest in the afternoon. You may have to alter your pace. Be flexible. Avoid restaurants and tourist attractions at peak times. Instead, visit at less busy times or choose a less busy restaurant.

If you have any specific questions about traveling with your loved one, please give us a call at 901.854.1200. And if you’re looking for additional information, we found the Alzheimer’s Association’s page on Traveling and Dementia and this page from Light Bridge Healthcare Research on Traveling and Dementia to be helpful.