Hitting the Highway: Traveling with Your Care Recipient


Hitting the Highway: Traveling with Your Care Recipient


Planning for the unexpected

I always remember great advice I once heard for family caregivers: Use respite services regularly, even when you don't need them, so when you do need them, you are comfortable and confident in the staff and service provider.

Meaning, test out the services that you will use when you need them before you need them. Iron out the glitches (and there will be glitches) now so when you need the time off, you can take it without too many worries or feelings of guilt.

The same can be true of your vacation with your care recipient. This summer may bring a trip for you and your care recipient for reminiscing (a trip to your care recipient's home town), for memories (a family reunion), or for welcomes (to meet the newborn great grandchild).

These kinds of trips become precious to all. To set the stage for success, take a test-drive in order to minimize (not eliminate) the problems you may encounter. Some potential wrinkles to smooth before gassing up your car:

What do you use every day (equipment, supplies, "homemade" items, medications, bedding, dishes) that you will need on your trip? What should you bring? What can you rent? What will you need during your trip--medications, supplies, etc.--that should be in your carry-on luggage or easily accessible in the car.

Routine: What do you every day that brings comfort to your care recipient (and to you)? For instance, does a daily dosage of the show "Jeopardy" calm your care recipient? How can you structure your day so that your care recipient can enjoy this dose of the every-day routine far from home?

Planning: For some care recipients, being involved in the planning process of the trip will be just as much fun as the trip. For other care recipients, whose disease process allows them to only live in the moment, the idea of a trip that will take place in two weeks for ten days will overwhelm and stress them. Use your best judgment as to whether or not to involve your care recipient.

However, if your care recipient will not be involved in the planning process, please sure to plan ahead as to how you will break the news to your care recipient that you are leaving tomorrow (or in one hour) for a week-long vacation. Ask members of your support group for idea and check with the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

Research: Which hotels, cruises, theme parks or airlines will best accommodate you and your care recipient? Do your homework and avoid assumptions. When contacting organizations, such as hotels, speak with knowledgeable staff members about the handicap accessible rooms-the employees who have actually been in the rooms. Will the room accommodate a wheelchair and a hoyer lift? Is the lobby easily accessible from the parking lot? How long of a walk is it from the parking lot to the lobby? Are the accessible rooms on the first floor? And, if not, will an elevator accommodate the wheelchair?

And, explain your particular needs. Let the hotel sell you on their services. Is this hotel (or theme park or airline) the best one for your care recipient?

State of mind: What do you want to get out of the this trip? Some quiet time? Some important moments with your care recipient? Have realistic, achievable goals for the trip, for yourself and your care recipient.

Mini-vacations: Take one-day and two-day trips close to home. You'll uncover any problems you may have overlooked and get in some great practice---all close to home so that you can return if you really encounter some difficulties.

Emergency assistance: Who can you contact in case of an emergency during your trip? Ask your care recipient's doctor for suggestions on how to handle emergencies. Should you go the nearest Emergency Room, call him, call a colleague he recommends? Also, ask the doctor about any suggestions he can offer to help make the trip safe for you and your care recipient.

And, leave your contact numbers at home with a family member and bring your contact numbers (your family member's name and phone number, doctor's name and phone number) with you, packed with the medications. If you have any problems, professionals can assist by contacting immediate family members and the doctor.

Organization: Start organizing for your trip weeks ahead of time. Document your schedule, plan your stops, prepare the medications and supplies so that they are readily available and in ample supply.

Enjoy: Let the vacation evolve by allowing room for spontaneity and adventure. Leave the word "no" (as much as you can) behind in the garage. Be open to the possibilities for you and your care recipient.

What travel tips can you share? And, what travel plans do you have for you and your care recipient?