A recent, nationally publicized tragedy involving a woman with memory issues emphasizes the fact that a senior with dementia (even in the early stages) should never travel alone. The woman’s family was aware of the fact that she was having memory issues. Yet, they allowed her to fly from Barbados to Washington alone (flight time approximately four and one half hours) with a layover in Miami. The article states that the family was concerned about her memory issues and planned to have her checked once she arrived back in Washington. It seems to me that she should have been checked prior to doing any travelling. In addition, the woman had poor vision. She walked past an airline agent who was carrying an electronic sign with her name on it. He was to escort her to the baggage area where the daughter was waiting. Her physician would have advised against her travelling alone and the tragedy could have been prevented.
As a senior living advisor, I always tell my clients that a senior with dementia should never travel alone. Here are some other tips that I offer to ease the stress of travelling with a senior who has dementia:
:-Always stay with the person in the airport. Do not turn your back on him/her.
-Realize that security lines are probably going to be long. Allow extra time for long lines so that you and the senior do not have to rush. Remember, you may have to remove your shoes as well as theirs and deposit your carry on items in a bin for observation in the x-ray machines. You will not only have to unload but repack his/her belongings once the security check is completed.
-It is probably better to schedule your flights early in the day. Seniors with dementia may “sundown,” and become more confused later in the day.
-Remember that a senior with dementia may need cuing or assistance with their toileting. Don’t rely on the airline staff on board the plane to assist them in the bathroom. They don’t have the time, nor are they trained to help.
-Keep the senior’s medication with you and don’t pack them in the checked luggage even if the flight is short. What would happen if your bags were lost or delayed? It is advisable to keep a limited amount of toiletries and a few items of clothing on hand if you need to change.
-Seniors with dementia will need some structured activity to keep them amused during the flight. Bring something s/he likes to do.
-Seniors are at risk for dehydration. Please make certain s/he stays hydrated during the flight.
-Many of my clients have opted to travel by car with a senior who has dementia rather than fly. It is advisable to stop often in order to break up the monotony of the trip. When you do stop, don’t ever leave the senior unattended at the gas station. Some of them have played games with their loved ones in the car. Admittedly, one of my clients said that his loved one would not stop talking during the trip. So he played a game where he bet her she couldn’t stop talking for 15 minutes. She won $50.00 from him! And he was able to remain sane!
If some of this sounds like common sense, it is. But, it is amazing what you neglect to think about when you are under the stress of caring for a senior with dementia. The family in this article let a woman with memory issues travel alone and now she is dead. What weren’t they thinking?