Travelling with someone with dementia

While most of us haven’t been doing a lot of travelling of late due to the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions easing in some parts of Australia, we can start dreaming of new horizons. But even local travel can be an adventure and a great excuse to leave the confines of our homes.

Yet travelling with someone with dementia needs some extra considerations. While it can make for additional challenges, there’s no reason to avoid it all together. Here are some tips for how to better plan for your travels together.

Consider accessibility
Whether you’re planning on travelling with the person on a bus, train, plane or simply going for a walk, you need to think about accessibility. A crowded train with school bags scattered throughout the carriage and no empty seats can be a tripping hazard as well as very overwhelming. If you do need to travel during peak hours, head to the first carriage where you can receive driver assistance if required. On a plane, book seats near the toilets so they don’t have to walk far.

Encourage them to wear an ID bracelet as this will help in case they get lost. To reduce this risk, be aware of any entrance/exit points to toilet blocks, shops, carriages, etc.

Be aware of triggers
No matter the form of transport, if you suspect it will be very busy and noisy, pack a pair of headphones – music or white noise can help the person from getting too overwhelmed. In case they get agitated being in the car, safety locks can prevent the doors from opening while in transit. If you’re staying in a hotel, lock the door and chat to staff in case you think they may go wandering.

Think of alternatives
You can’t expect predictability when travelling with someone with dementia, so be prepared to think on your feet. If you notice they get agitated or upset, you might need to think of a plan B. Rather than immediately heading straight home (which is of course not possible if you’re on a plane), try to stay calm.

Are they thirsty, hungry, tired, in pain, in need of the toilet? You might need to adjust your plans accordingly. Calm phrases that provide reassurance (such as “You’re safe here”) can help reduce tension, as can your own reactions, which is why it’s important to stay composed and in control.

When to be concerned
If the person is still driving, you might notice warning signs that indicate that they are no longer safe on the road. These include impaired vision or hearing, delays in reaction time, issues with coordination and a general lack of awareness. Talk to them about your concerns and also raise it with their GP in order to keep your loved one and others safe.

Finding support
Whether you are living with dementia or are supporting someone who is, know that you are not alone. The National Dementia Hotline (1800 100 500) offers free telephone support from 8.00 – 8.00pm on weekdays in case you need advice or just a listening ear.