Traveling and Caregiving


February 13, 2021

Traveling can be fun with a loved one but can provide special challenges for family caregivers when the older parent, spouse, or other family member needs special assistance due to chronic health problems. Communicating and planning are essential.

Basic Travel Tips – If the caregiver is traveling with the older adult

  • Offer older adults choices whenever possible, including whether they go or stay home.

  • Ask for their ideas and preferences about places to tour and family and friends that he or she may want to see.

  • When traveling, think about special dietary and lodging needs and call ahead to make arrangements.

  • Pack light and offer suggestions about how to reduce the amount of luggage that your care receiver carries.

  • Take a list of all physician and insurance information, including telephone numbers.

  • If possible, take original bottles of medications in a closable clear plastic bag in case of an unexpected doctor visit, emergency or if you need to fill a prescription while away from home. Always include a list of all medications in the bag. Refill prescriptions before you leave, if possible.

  • Think ahead about special equipment such as oxygen and whether you need additional prescriptions or documentation from a physician for medical equipment.

  • Notify neighbors or friends that the older adult will be away from home.

  • Notify the post office so mail will not be stacking up.

  • Take along any legal papers in case of emergency i.e. Directive to Physician,

  • Family and Surrogates (“Living Will”), Medical Power of Attorney, and Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), if there is one. Although all states differ in what they will honor if something happens outside your state, it is a good idea to have these documents with you.

  • Avoid sitting in a plane or car for long periods which can lead to deep vein thrombosis. Both you and your care receiver should get out of the car about once an hour or so and get up once or twice during a flight.

  • Plan for quiet activities for older Adults, especially when children are around.

  • Take healthy snacks; small bottles of juice and water.

  • Take items such as a favorite pillow, personal supplies and equipment, and comfortable shoes.

  • Give the care receiver a one-time use camera and offer to help create an album of memories with them after the trip.

  • Crossword puzzles, easy listening music on portable CD/cassette players (remember to take extra batteries) and other activities help make the trip more enjoyable.

Travel can be especially confusing for old adults who are experiencing even mild dementia. Consult physician and the Alzheimer’s Association for ideas about general tips on traveling and how to help sooth agitation and avoid confusion. Persons with dementia should wear some type of identification bracelet such as through the Safe Return program and have identification cards and forms with them at all times.

Traveling by car:

  • Take frequent rest stops at least every two hours. For safety precautions, be sure to use a seat belt and lock the doors.

  • Take detail maps to your destinations to reduce the chances of getting lost.

  • Take a cell phone in case of emergencies.

  • Never leave older adults alone in the car, at curbside unless you are certain they can handle anything unexpected.

Traveling on airplanes:

Due to security precautions, travel by air today often requires a great deal of standing, walking, and waiting in lines. Allow plenty of time. If the older adult is limited in any way, call the airline(s) you are traveling with and request a wheelchair and/or other assistance. Airlines also provide physically challenged passengers with priority boarding.

If the airline provides meals, call ahead and order a special diet, if required. Take medications onboard instead of packing them.

Be prepared if the older adult becomes disoriented and confused.

Alternate Lodging:

The older adult may travel with the family but choose to stay in an assisted living or other facility which may offer a daily bed rate. The family member may not want to stay in the home with young children or with a lot of activity. The older adult joins the family for meals and short periods of time but then can go back and rest.

Call ahead to see what is available in the community. What will be needed as far as paperwork? Will a doctor’s order be needed?

The Area Agency on Aging in the community can be an excellent resource for information.

If the caregiver is traveling and the older adult is not

Prepare a checklist of medications, dosage times and amount, doctor phone numbers, insurance information other health related information. Ask the doctor’s office or a case manager because they may already have an existing checklist that you can fill in with this information.

Arrange for someone to check on the person at least once or more a day by phone and in person. Consider relatives, neighbors, church members, and others.

Respite services may be available through funding of the local area agency on aging. Call 2-1-1 from anywhere in the US and ask about this service. If approved, these funds can be used to help pay someone to stay with the older adult or to check on them and provide some non-medical assistance.

Some local long term care facilities offer stays in a facility on a daily rate while caregivers are away. The area agency on aging may know about some of these. Call those facilities located close to the family member’s home so that perhaps they can have visits from neighbors or church members.

And for you, the Caregiver.

Take time for rest for yourself along the way and set aside time to totally relax and have fun. Ask other family members to help with care of the older adult.

Conclusion: Traveling can be relaxing, enjoyable and fun for all parties if advanced planning is taken. Remember, you can reduce the challenges if you take a few extra minutes before your trip.

Edited by Zanda Hilger from several sources.

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