How to navigate travelling with a person who is living with dementia

  • Elderly couple looking at the ocean
  • Elderly people on bicycles
Ros Calvert
Dementia Tas

When we find ourselves in the position of supporting a loved one who is living with dementia, it is important for their wellbeing to learn about the condition.

Dementia is progressive and each person will experience different changes throughout their journey. If you know someone who has dementia, gaining knowledge about the condition will assist you to provide support and friendship during this confusing time in their life.

While some people with dementia can manage very well in their own environment, travelling and visiting unfamiliar places can be a very challenging experience for them. People with dementia can easily become disorientated and overwhelmed by change. These times require quick thinking and alertness from their support person.

For example, an airport can be a difficult environment for a person with dementia. It is an unfamiliar and noisy environment, with large numbers of people going in different directions. When travelling with a person with dementia it is important to keep them in view at all times. If they need to visit the toilet, and you cannot go in with them, it is a good idea to wait right outside the door so they can see you when they come out. You shouldn’t rely on the person to remember where you are sitting – they would more than likely walk in another direction if they cannot immediately see you.

 A busy shopping centre or a noisy restaurant is a similar environment. The hustle and bustle and noise level of these places may be overwhelming for a person with dementia and their brain cannot process things as easily as it can when in their own familiar, quieter environment at home.

If you are travelling with someone who has dementia make sure you know what they are wearing. It can be harder to find a person in a crowd if you cannot remember what their clothes look like. A good suggestion is for the person with dementia to wear bright colours so they stand out, or familiar clothing that they always wear so they are easily recognised. Labelling all luggage, including hand bags, will also help if they get disorientated and misplace items.

It is also important to ensure that special arrangements with travel insurance have been made ahead of time. If you are staying in a hotel or at a resort, talk to staff ahead of time so they are aware of your travelling companion’s condition and special needs.

Sometimes it is necessary to travel over long distances by car to visit specialists or to access other services that are not provided in a rural area. You should allow for extra time during these trips to allow for stops so the person with dementia can have a break from travelling in the car, stretch their legs, visit the toilet or have something to eat and drink. It can be a good idea to activate the security lock on the car door, so the person cannot open the door while the car is moving  or once the car has stopped and there is moving traffic. Occasionally people with dementia might think that the car is moving too fast, even though the speed limit is being adhered to.  

It is vital to monitor how the person travels and have several conversations with them during the trip as to how they are feeling. It can be helpful to drive a little slower. A  supportive strategy while driving over long distances is  to explain continuously where the person is going and name the towns or landmarks that you are passing. This can assist in keeping a person with dementia feeling calm and safe.

Holidays and travelling are a part of life which can be relaxing and rejuvenating. With forward planning and the help of a support person, someone living with dementia can be empowered to experience the joys of travelling and getting out to see the world.

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