January 9

Traveling with Dementia: 8 Tips to Make Travel Less Stressful


Are you worried that you can’t travel with your loved one now that they have been diagnosed with dementia?

They might be doing well in their home where everything is familiar — but how will they do when you leave the house? Will they wander off and get lost? Or maybe all the noise and crowds will make them anxious or cause an angry outburst. 

You really want to take them to visit the family for reunions and holidays, but you know their safety is most important. 

So, how do you know if traveling with your loved one is safe? Keep reading for signs that traveling might not be an option and tips to make it easier if travel is safe.

8 Stress-Saving Tips for Traveling with Dementia

Traveling can be great for your loved one — as long as you can do it safely and you take some precautions. The severity of their symptoms and stage of dementia will determine if you can safely travel with them or not. 

If your loved one is in late-stage dementia or experiencing any of the following symptoms, you will want to consider contacting an aging life care manager or their doctor to discuss the trip before making any travel plans.

  • They are prone to abrupt yelling, crying, or screaming.
  • Your loved one is experiencing delusions, paranoia, or other inappropriate behavior.
  • They become upset or agitated in loud or crowded environments.
  • When you take them on short outings or trips, they want to go home.
  • There is a problem with managing incontinence.
  • You are worried about falls.
  • Your loved one often demonstrates physical or verbal aggression.
  • They have an unstable medical condition that would be worsened by travel.

If your loved one isn’t experiencing any of the above symptoms, or your doctor or caregiver approves your travel plans, then the following tips will help you travel easier. 

1. Pack Carefully

Make a list of all the essentials that your loved one needs, so you don’t forget to pack anything. You don’t want to find yourself in an unfamiliar area without the items that you both need. 

Some important items of theirs that you shouldn’t forget are:

  • Their medications
  • A list of the medications they currently take with dosage instructions
  • A list of emergency contacts
  • Most recent medical information
  • The phone numbers for their doctors and pharmacies
  • A list of any allergies they have
  • Comfort items that will help them if they become agitated or stressed

2. Plan Carefully

Proper planning will make for a smoother trip with fewer headaches. You can’t plan for everything, but some basic prep will help.

  • Make sure that you both get plenty of rest the night before your journey.
  • Have a backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
  • Learn to recognize signs of anxiety or agitation in your loved one and be aware of what you can do to help calm them.
  • Plan for frequent stops or waiting times where you will be the primary source of entertainment for your loved one.
  • Bring something along to help keep them preoccupied or calm them down.
  • Try to plan travel during the time of day that is best for your loved one. If they are more easily agitated during particular times of the day, then plan to be in a calm and easily controlled situation during those times.
  • Anticipate that your trip will most likely be longer than you’d expect.
  • Plan to have someone available to relieve you from your caregiving duties when you arrive at your destination. It is likely you will be tired from the trip and will need some time to rest before resume caring for your loved one.

If you’re traveling to visit family or friends, talk to them about the symptoms and complications your loved one might experience during your trip. Ask them to remain calm if your loved one were to have an outburst or become anxious. Help them understand what to expect so they can help.

Bonus tip — don’t forget to purchase travel insurance in case you have to cancel your trip early. This will help offset the cost of any canceled reservations or flights.

3. Anticipate Wandering

Six in 10 people with dementia will wander off.” If your loved one were to wander, you want to be prepared and make it easy to get help if you were to become separated.

Make sure they are wearing an ID bracelet, necklace, or badge. You can enroll them in any medical alert programs along your route and near your destination.

The Alzheimer’s Association and the MedicAlert Foundation have a nationwide emergency response program that you can sign them up for. They help reunite loved ones that get lost wandering with dementia. 

You can find out more and enroll in the program on their website.

4. Keep Travel Short

When you have a longer journey to make, it can  be especially hard on you and your loved one. They are going an extended period of time outside their comfort zone.

To help make this journey easier, keep plane and car rides as short as possible — no more than 4 hours at a time. Choose flights that don’t have layovers and routes that won’t have you stuck in traffic if at all possible.

Keep your loved one occupied and content by bringing items they will enjoy like games, photos, portable hobbies, or other distractions. You can also bring along some hand wipes and tissues to help with any spills or other messes that might occur.

5. Choose Your Accommodations Wisely

Plan to stay with friends or family if you can. Traveling to destinations that your loved one is familiar with can help keep them calm and feeling secure. 

If you do have to stay in a hotel, you can make special requests to make it more comfortable and safe. 

You can request rooms:

  • that are larger and quieter
  • with door alarms or child-proof knobs
  • that are on the ground floor
  • without sliding glass doors or balconies
  • with double beds instead of adjoining suites
  • that have disabled access including emergency call buttons in the bathrooms
  • that have in-room appliances so you can prepare simple meals without having to leave the room

Call ahead when you make your reservations to ensure that the hotel you’re booking with has the accommodations that you need. Pay attention to their customer service. Hotels with excellent customer service can make your trip significantly more manageable.

6. Maintain Routines

Dementia makes it hard for your loved one to learn new things. Because of this, they find comfort in the repetition of tasks in a routine each day.

As much as possible, strive to maintain as many of their routines as possible. This includes daily activities like mealtimes, bedtimes, or other scheduled activities that they perform regularly.

If you can’t maintain their routine, then make sure that you communicate when routines will be changed and why. This helps them feel safe and avoids confusion with all the changes in their schedule.

7. Plan for the Unplanned

No matter how excellent your plans and back up plans are, the unexpected can happen. Don’t be afraid to cut visits short if that’s what is best for you or your loved one, and remain calm in the event of any emergencies. 

Plan extra time in your schedule so that meltdowns or outbursts won’t set you back or cause you to miss your flight. Identify pit-stop areas along your journey that can used to provide relaxation time.

8. Consult an Aging Life Care Manager

Are you still not sure if traveling with your loved one is a good idea? Then you should talk to an aging life care manager and get advice.

What is an aging life care manager?

An aging life care manager is someone that assists the elderly so they can live as independently as possible without compromising their safety. Ask them about how to find caregivers with experience in dementia care training.  A caregiver with special training will understand your loved one’s unique needs much better. As a client, you can visit our caregiver registry and request referrals to caregivers with dementia care training.

How can an aging life care manager help?

Aging life care managers help with all aspects of aging. We can assist with planning and problem solving, education and advocacy, assessment and monitoring, and coaching for family members who provide care to aging loved ones. 

Request a Consultation

Do you want to know if it’s safe to travel with your loved one that has been diagnosed with dementia? 

Request a Consultation to speak to one of our team members today.

Request a Consultation

Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.

About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”