Traveling over the holiday season is tough for anyone, as the roads and airways are busier than usual. (Layovers and traffic jams aren’t usually anyone’s idea of a good time.) But for seniors and family caregivers, these typical stresses are magnified when it means suddenly changing plans and scrambling to find appropriate accommodations. Joyous occasions can become overshadowed by fear, anxiety, and stress.
It’s particularly troublesome for seniors with cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia, as any change to the standard routine can create serious anxiety and even lead to emotional outbursts out of sheer frustration. These tips will help you prepare for the worst and hope for the best as you travel with aging loved ones this holiday season, so that you can make the most out of your time with family and friends no matter what circumstances may arise.
1. Plan Ahead to Reduce Travel Stress
Planning is always important when you’re traveling, but it’s even more so when you’re traveling with an aging loved one. Consider health issues and potential hazards, such as portable oxygen and other needs, and always have a backup plan. When you’re prepared for any potential hiccups during travel, you’ll be much less stressed should something go awry.
2. Look Into Special Accommodations
If you’re traveling by air, and your loved one requires assistance with ambulation (such as a walker or wheelchair), check into the accommodations offered by the airline. Airlines typically have special rows designated for disabled travelers to allow ample space for wheelchairs and other equipment. Additionally, there are many restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that offer discounts for senior citizens. Don’t be afraid to ask and take advantage of these offers; there are many ways you can put a few extra dollars to good use over the holidays.
3. Prepare and Make Copies of Essential Documents
It’s a good idea to travel with a list of medications, as well as statements outlining medical conditions from your loved one’s primary care physician or other provider. Should a medical emergency arise while you’re traveling, you can easily provide the hospital or provider with essential health information to streamline treatment.
4. Prepare Medications for Air Travel
Traveling with prescription medications can be tricky for air travel. Be sure to include copies of prescriptions, and keep the medications in the same containers in which the pharmacy provides them. Otherwise, you could run into trouble with airport security. Having all your prescriptions and proper containers assures authorities that the medications are, in fact, prescribed to a traveler and not merely being smuggled for illicit use or street sale. (It sounds crazy, but it happens.)
5. Try to Maintain Familiar Routines
Obviously, keeping the same routine when you’re traveling out of town is easier said than done. But that doesn't mean you can’t maintain some level of familiarity by following the same types of routines you’d follow at home. If your aging parent always bathes in the evening, for instance, and then unwinds by watching a favorite television show, or eats the same thing for breakfast every day, try to do the same while you’re on the road. Even though the scenery might be different, the familiarity offered by routines can be comforting in otherwise stressful situations.
6. Take Your Time
One of the biggest contributors to stress over the holiday is the feeling of being rushed. Planning ahead can alleviate this to some extent, but you can also build in ample time to your travel plans to ensure you’re not crunched for time. Give yourself plenty of time to drive to your destination, planning for multiple stops and breaks along the way. If you’re traveling by air, choose a flight plan with ample, but not too lengthy, layovers. Build in an extra day or two to your trip to account for last-minute changes in plans so you’re not scrambling to change your travel arrangements at the last moment.
The holidays are meant for joy and laughter, for spending time with friends and family near and far, and for making memories that last a lifetime. Plan ahead, go prepared, and take your time so you can dedicate all your energy to making lasting memories instead of being weighed down by unnecessary stress.