Travel With Frail Aging Parents? What To Consider And What To Avoid
Many of us made travel plans with aging parents long ago, hoping the pandemic would would be over by this time. Delayed events, rescheduled celebrations and other family gatherings are still on the calendars of families and aging loved ones. Time has passed since the first thoughts of getting together in person, traveling from distances and spending time together came up. The question remains: is it safe for your aging
You must make decisions about what is safe in making any travel plans. One certainly should consider highly contagious Covid variants as factors in the process. Unvaccinated elders, exposed to airports, plans, trains and other vehicles involved would be at high risk, even when required to wear a mask. Vaccinated elders are safer, without a doubt, but no one is perfectly 100% immune from contagion. How much risk are you willing to take and how would it be for you if your loved one got sick from Covid as a result of travel?
Another thing to think over carefully is the question of what a frail elder can comfortably tolerate. You would be wise to put yourself in the aging parent’s shoes. Perhaps they want to go on a trip, and believe they are doing fine, but you can see that they need a lot of help. Walking may be problematic, going through airports and train stations. Not every aging person who can’t walk well accepts this limitation and is willing to be transported by wheelchair.
In my own experience, my aging mother in law, Alice, now passed, had significant knee pain. She didn’t want anyone to think she was “a cripple” as she put it and she resisted all suggestions about any devices to help her walk. She wanted to go on a cruise with us at a time when this was feasible and reasonably safe. We offered to rent a wheelchair for her for the trip. The ship was large, and a lot of onboard walking would be needed, which she well knew as an experienced cruiser. Still she refused our offers. During the 10 days of travel, she was miserable and had to sit down very often. She complained repeatedly and finally admitted, too late, that she should have allowed us to provide the lightweight wheelchair for the trip. Her stubbornness got her a lot of discomfort. Not fun.
Dementia and travel
Of all the considerations about traveling with your aging loved one, dementia is probably the most complicated one. Mild memory loss would not preclude safe travel. But, for an elder farther along in dementia, when too much noise is upsetting, too many people and too much stimulation results in anxiety, and these factors affect behavior negatively, travel is not wise. It is not prudent to assume that an impaired elder is going to enjoy a trip as much as you would just because it will be to a beautiful place or to a location your loved one enjoyed years ago. He/she is changed by dementia. Information and experiences are different when one gets easily lost, when new things are confusing or when your loved one can’t keep track of what is going on. A person well into dementia needs daily routine. Disrupting that for what you may believe will be fun for them may not be as fun as you wish it would be.
If you are planning to travel with your aging parent or grandparent, consider all of these things. Perfectly alert and reasonably healthy older folks may do just fine. But those with physical and cognitive impairments are not you and they are likewise not the way they used to be before these age-related impairments showed up. Sensitivity to their world will help you make the decisions about traveling with them. They may want to please you and say “yes” to a proposed trip because of this. A quiet, honest, heart-to-heart talk exploring their own attitudes and capability to adapt to travel are surely in order. Above all, don’t push for them to go on any long adventures you would prefer based on the assumption that it will be fine. Invite them to be honest with you and listen carefully to any concerns they will share. If they are too confused or forgetful to describe what they think about a proposed trip, consider that a signal that it might not be so good for them.
Sometimes the effort to plan trips for aging parents with dementia causes family conflicts. Not all agree that it’s best and verbal fights break out. If your family is in conflict about this or any elder-related issue, get help from our RN-Attorney, Psychologist team at AgingParents.com. Call us at 866-962-4464 or contact us online to help you reach agreements.
By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN-Attorney, AgingParents.com