I often am asked for advice on whether to take a loved one with dementia on vacation. My answer is always the same: “Only if they are still in the early stages of the disease. If they are too far advanced, the problems you will run into may be very severe. Once they enter the moderate or later stage, the safe haven of their home may be best place for them.”
What I’m hearing the most is, “This will most likely be our last trip together.” Living here in Florida, caregivers are constantly saying they’re planning a three- to five-day cruise.
Those that have opted to not heed my advice almost certainly have come home telling me that everything that possibly could have gone wrong did.
Let me tell you what happened to one gentleman who went against the advice of several dementia-caring professionals and decided to take his wife on a multi-state road trip to visit his son. Before even making it out of Florida, he ran into problems. He made frequent stops so his wife could use a restroom and tried to bring down his wife’s anxiety levels, which seemed to be rising by the mile.
He pulled into a well-lit truck stop, reckoning it would be safe because there were people around. After waiting for about 15 minutes for his wife to come out of the restroom, he decided he had better knock on the door and check on her. She finally opened the door and he gently reached out for her hand to lead her back to their car. She began screaming at the top of her lungs. The next thing this man knew, he was surrounded by people and thrown to the ground; meanwhile she told everyone who had gathered that she had no idea who he was and that he had kidnapped her.
Next, police arrived, handcuffed the man and charged him with a felony, leaving absolutely no one who understood how to care for the poor woman.
Embarrassed, broken and defeated, he finally persuaded police to call his son, who was a day-and-a-half away, to come get his mother.
Three times the man had to return to the rural town to go to court.
I know that there will be times when you have no choice and you all have to go somewhere. Funerals or other drastic events might come into play. However, think deep and hard before stripping a loved one away from the daily routine they so desperately need.
I experienced this firsthand on a 12-day trip to Canada with my dad who had Alzheimer’s disease. There wasn’t a bathroom during the whole trip that my father could find his way out of on his own. It wasn’t until that trip that I truly realized how far advanced my father was. I had been kidding myself, believing he was not that bad.
If you want to do some traveling, my advice is to do it when your loved one is first diagnosed. Because once the disease starts winning, and it will, loving them in the comfort and security of their own home might be the best vacation you will get.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books, “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” “While I Still Can” and “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.