The Traveling Dementia Caregiver
Our family recently got to take a trip to the tropics and we had it all worked out. We timed it so Mom, who has Alzheimer's dementia, would be visiting family in her home state. We would all jet off into the sunset at the same time! And my immediate family would get a much-needed respite from full-time caregiving and cabin fever from wintertime and the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Do you have a feeling where this is going?)
Well, I learned to be ready for anything when you're a dementia caregiver. There will likely be at least one surprise that comes up when you're planning two simultaneous agendas for travel. Here are some of the lessons I learned from planning our trip.
Lesson 1: Traveling as a caregiver is double the work
My mom is still early on in her diagnosis, is pretty fit and mobile, and could technically travel with us. We would have loved that. However, she does not do well out of her routine, and being in new places is overwhelming and stressful to her.
We decided this time that she would be happier visiting family back home. So while we were planning our own trip, we planned out a whole trip for her too.
It is double the work. Her travels take a lot of coordination with other family and friends to make sure she is safe. Someone must pick her up from the airport and drop her off - Mom doesn't drive and can't navigate public transit, host her in their home, and coordinate meals (Mom doesn't cook).
Even if your loved one stays at home while you travel, there is planning to do. This can vary from simple to complex depending on what needs your loved one has. When my mom stays at home, I have to prepare meals, create a schedule and coordinate with someone to drive her, and plan for friends or caregivers to check on her each day.
At the same time, I am also responsible for booking our resort, plane tickets, and excursions. I'm creating packing lists, planning time off of school for the kids, holding the mail, finding substitutes for our volunteer work, notifying work.
But we know it will be worth it - sunshine! The beach! R and R! - so we keep going.
Lesson 2: Sometimes you still forget the dog
Two days before our trip I realized that I had forgotten the dog. When Mom came to live with us she also brought her very large, very sensitive rescue dog.
Despite her delicate name, Beauty is part German Shepherd and part Akita, and she is so big and intimidating-looking that most people are frightened of her. She is too big to go on a plane in any way and does not get along well with other dogs.
I had forgotten to find a dog-sitter or a boarding place for Beauty to go while we were all out of town. I worried that the dog was going to derail our travel plans. After I scrambled around trying to find something last-minute, we found a number of options that worked.
You might not have a dog to forget, but there might be something else that causes you extra work or stress at the last minute. Try not to panic and stay steady. There is always a solution to the problem!
Lesson 3: Have a plan B... And C
It’s a good idea to have a backup plan for both parties.
Since we were planning our trip during the Covid-19 pandemic, we had travel insurance and backup plans in case someone got sick before our trip. We also had testing requirements and jumped through all those hoops to make sure we were all well before we left.
Even so, someone on my Mom's receiving end got exposed to the virus and after all that planning, my mom had to postpone her trip. I scrambled to find someone to check on Mom while she was here alone.
We decided to still go on our trip. The night before we left I cooked and prepared meals for every day that we were gone. I notified all the people who thought Mom was going to be gone with the change of plans so Mom could still go to her gym classes and activities. And I canceled the dog sitter.
So much pivoting and changing plans. I hadn't even finished packing for my own family's trip and felt like I had planned three trips for my mom already. I was exhausted. Was it going to be worth it?
Lesson 4: All the effort is completely worth it so don't give up
To all the other traveling caregivers out there: It is worth it! Do not give up.
Mom did great while we were gone and she was well taken care of. We came back from our vacation refreshed from our much-needed time away. All the work was worth it and we have memories with our kids that we will cherish for a lifetime. We had a break from caregiving and came back filled up and ready to do a good job taking care of my mom.
Remember to put your caregiver's "oxygen mask" on first. If travel fills you up and refreshes you, you can still do it as a dementia caregiver and you should.
How do you prepare to travel without a loved one? Share your experiences or start a forum thread!
Are you a male caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer's disease?