We all complain about it – but travelling to our holiday destination can actually be quite fun.
It’s not just a means of getting to a fun place. The plane journey itself can be part of the excitement.
Especially when everything goes as it’s supposed to.
But, unfortunately, for people with dementia it can be a little bit more difficult.
While doing research for a big dementia-related project we’ve been working on (entitled ‘This Illustrated House Shows You Just What It’s Like to Live with Dementia’) – I happened to come across some tips that you might find helpful if you’re planning a holiday with a loved one who has dementia.
Below, you can find the list of those that seemed most useful to me. I’ve also included a shortened checklist version of this list at the end.
Before you go
The journey itself is probably the most difficult thing about going on holiday – especially for people with dementia.
So, a good plan is essential.
Make sure you know exactly what you’re going to do at every point of your trip.
1. See if there are any specialist dementia holiday packages available
There are some amazing organisations out there, dedicated to helping people with dementia have the perfect holiday.
One of those is Tourism for All.
They mainly focus on UK-based holidays, at locations with specialist staff who can ensure you have a wonderful break.
They can also help out if you’re planning a holiday abroad.
Check out their ‘Overseas Travel’ page. It includes lots of important information about what airlines, and airport facilities, are legally required to do in order to help.
2. Visit familiar destinations
Many people with dementia have trouble processing and interacting with their immediate surroundings, but can vividly remember experiences from decades ago.
By visiting holiday destinations that you’re already familiar with (especially those that they knew before the onset of dementia), your loved one may feel more comfortable and in control.
3. Write yourself a very detailed itinerary
Make sure you know where you need to be at each point during the journey – and write it down.
That means the time you need to book a taxi to take you to the airport. The time you plan to check-in. The time of your flight, and the time it lands.
If you want to be extra detailed – you can make a note of how long you’ll have to look around the shops after going through security.
That way, you can show it to a member of staff if you get confused about where you need to be – or what time it is. And if you’re relaxed, your loved one is relaxed.
4. Travel in groups of three or more
Even with loved ones, travelling with someone who has dementia can be challenging.
Whether it’s to take a shower, get some sleep, or simply use the loo, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have to leave them at some point during your journey. Having another set of eyes around to supervise them during these times can be tremendously helpful (if possible).
5. Speak to the airport and airline before you go
Get in touch with the airport you’ll be travelling from, 48 hours before your departure.
Let them know about your companion’s condition and ask them how they can assist you through the journey.
Every airport and airline is required to help people with disabilities – and that includes hidden illnesses such as dementia.
They mighthelp you with yourbags, escort you to the right places, and even let you jump to the front of the security queue!
During your conversation with them on the phone, write down exactly what you need to do on arrival to get support from their staff (where to meet them, who they are, and at what stage of the check-in/boarding process).
You may also be interested to read that several airports (around 10% of them in the UK) are taking steps to become more dementia friendly.
For now, those include places like Heathrow and Gatwick. Luton Airport is making sure their staff receive Dementia Friends training.
6. Contact the hotel, and give them your emergency information
Let the hotel (or people in charge of wherever you’re staying) know that you will be arriving with someone who has dementia, and ask them what sort of assistance they can provide.
In addition, you should write down the details of an emergency contact, and give it to them upon arrival. Make sure to include the name, phone number and even email address of your emergency contact.
Your emergency contact can be anyone really. A relative or friend – maybe even a medical professional you’re close with – who‘ll know exactly what to do.
7. Pack noise-cancelling headphones
However you’re travelling, you might want to create a bit of quiet space.
Headphones can be used to replace alarming or distracting noises, with music or radio shows that are familiar and comforting. It can definitely help on a plane when a lot of different sounds are happening and potentially causing confusion.
At the airport
Airports can be very busy, and are often confusing for most people.
So, it can be a real struggle for someone with dementia.
But that’s why we’ve got our step-by-step plan sorted before arriving!
8. Let the airport know you’ve arrived
Based on the conversation you had with the airport before you arrived, you have your written-down instructions on what to do when you get to the airport.
There might be a help desk available, or you might simply have to notify the member of staff who checks you in.
Inform them of who you are, who you’re with and what their condition is.
If you’re at Gatwick Airport, you mayll be able to take advantage of a lanyard programme they have.People with dementia (as well as other hidden illnesses) are given passes to make staff aware that they might need a little extra patience when dealing with them.This is especially helpful when going through security!
9. Keep all your essentials safe
Before leaving the house, decide on a safe space where you can keep your important documents (passport, plane tickets, etc.).
Agree on where this place should be with your companion.
If they remember themselves, it makes them feel like they’re in control. But if not, at least you’re there to help.
As well as documents, make sure to pack any medications your companion needs. Write a little note reminding them which medicines you need to take, and when.
10. Dealing with connecting flights
Having a connecting flight can be frustrating.
But all you can do is prepare. As you did with the first airport, try to contact the second airport and let them know about your companion’s condition.
That way, the staff there can help you with any issues you might have.
This can get a little more complicated if your second airport is in a foreign country, where there might not be a lot of people who speak English.
So, the best thing to do is speak to the airline you’re flying with. Inform them of the situation – and they should be able to help.
When you’re there – on holiday!
Now you get to relax, and enjoy a well-deserved break.
I did find a couple more tips during my research – to hopefully help you make the most of your time away from home.
11. Allow plenty of time to do things
The journey probably felt a little overwhelming. What with all the rushing about, trying to be in the right place at the right time.
But now is the time to relax, and take your time.
Whether you have an itinerary to follow during your trip, or you just want to take it day by day, make sure you don’t pack in too much stuff for a single day.
You don’t want to be rushing through activities and stressing yourself out.
Don’t overdo it, and you’ll enjoy your holiday a lot more.
12. Have them wear an identification bracelet
Should you get separated from your travel partner, an identification bracelet can be one of the most effective ways of reuniting with them.
This is especially true if the person who has dementia is prone to wandering. On the bracelet, be sure to include a brief description of the person’s mental condition – as well as your local and international contact details.
Finally, be positive!
This is your time.
A chance for you to enjoy yourselves, together – and take it a little easier.
You might have difficult moments. Things may occasionally go wrong (they do on everyone’s holiday).
But try to enjoy it as much as you can. And do your best to stay positive.
Checklist for people travelling with someone who has dementia
- See if there are any specialist dementia holiday packages available
- Write a very detailed itinerary for your trip
- Speak to the airport and airline before you go
- Contact the hotel, and give them your emergency information
- Pack headphones
- Pack an identification bracelet
- Let the airport know you’ve arrived
- Keep all your essentials safe
- Figure out how to deal with connecting flights (if you have one)