Dear Carol: My parents dreamed of travel before they retired and were fortunate to live their dream for many years. Sadly, my mom has now developed dementia. She’s still in the early stages and can enjoy life with a few adjustments, but Dad still insists that they travel.
After they returned from a two-week jaunt to British Columbia last month, Mom was disoriented, and her anxiety was off the charts. Dad’s reaction was to complain that she “wasn’t herself” when he wanted to hop from place to place without rest. When I tell Dad that Mom just can’t do this anymore, he brushes off her anxiety and memory loss as something that she’ll get over. His attitude makes me worry about how Mom coped during the trip. How do I get through to him that this kind of traveling has to stop? — LG.
Dear LG: I’m sorry that you are put in the middle of your parents’ problem, but you are right to intervene.
While people in the earlier stages of dementia can and do travel, care must be taken to help them get enough rest and make sense of their ever-changing environment. This means that if your dad is willing to recognize his denial and make adjustments, your mom could possibly continue to travel with him for some time.
I assume that if your parents are traveling to this extent, they are at least somewhat internet savvy, so encourage your dad to follow some Alzheimer’s groups online. Facebook has many such groups, including some that are hosted by people living with dementia. Run your Facebook search under both dementia and Alzheimer's. By following these sites, he'll not only learn more about how to help your mom in general; he’ll be in contact with caregivers who can answer his questions about traveling with a person who lives with dementia.
Additionally, there are several popular dementia-friendly cruises available that can present an attractive alternative. As their name denotes, these cruises are set up to accommodate the needs of people who live with dementia. Though enjoying travel is their primary focus, these cruises also offer education for both the person living with dementia and his or her caregiver, as well as adaptive activity choices and the comradery of others who live with similar challenges. They get wonderful reviews from families.
You could start your research by going to radio host Lori La Bey’s site at https://www.alzheimersspeaks.com/cruise-with-us. Elite Cruises offers dementia-friendly cruises, as well. Check here: https://www.elitecruisesandvacationstravel.com/elite-caregiver-respite-dementia-friendly-cruise.html.
Dementia-friendly travel is becoming popular, so watch for increasing options. By working with your mom’s dementia rather than against it, your parents could likely take several trips together before your mom’s condition worsens to the point where travel isn’t practical.
Once travel becomes too hard for your mom, though, if your dad really must keep traveling, he’ll need to arrange for her care while he travels on his own. For now, I hope that he will listen to you and seek some dementia-specific alternatives.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.