Travelling with a PLWD (person living with dementia) requires more planning and care but is still possible for a long time after diagnosis. To make it enjoyable, plans need to take into account any difficulties resulting from cognitive impairment. Be realistic and consider what will work for them now. Modify and adapt the way you travel, where you travel to, and whom you travel with. Everyone’s journey through dementia is different and how someone will cope with travel will be unique to them.
It’s important to be realistic about what travel options are suitable for someone living with dementia. People experience dementia differently and what works for one person may not be right for another. Think carefully and honestly about how you may need to alter your travel plans if you are travelling with a person living with dementia.
Key considerations & tips to help with travelling
- Travelling alone may become too difficult when you’re caring for a PLWD. Travel with someone else who is calm, trusted, and can share a support role.
- Have watertight travel plans. Allow time for unexpected delays so nothing is rushed. Arrange pick up transport at the end of the flight so your arrival is hassle free.
- Before planning an expensive holiday overseas try smaller practice runs. Try overnight and short holidays in local places. You can always come home if things don’t go so well.
- Keep it simple: consider shorter, closer, simpler. This is likely to be more successful than complex multi-stop or long-haul holidays.
- Do not over-schedule your holiday. Plan rest times and recuperation days.
- Travel at the time of day that is best for the PLWD. Look at booking the night before at an airport hotel.
- Try a GPS system at home before the trip so you both feel confident using it on holiday.
- Research travel insurance that will cover the unexpected like missing a flight. Book flexible flights so you can return home earlier if needed.
- Inform the airline that a PLWD is travelling. Some might ask for a GP’s letter saying that they are fit to travel.
- Ask your GP about medications that might help with agitation or sleep, but try them at home first.
- If suitable, book a wheelchair for the PLWD. This helps prevents tiredness and sometimes stops the PLWD walking off.
- Pack a brightly coloured hat or jacket so should the PLWD go walking or get lost they will be easier to spot and be identifiable to others.
- Use quiet rooms, headphones, or earplugs to reduce the noise.
- If possible, the carer should carry the passports, credit cards, and documents. Assign the PLWD another role like looking for the coffee shop or pushing the trolley and take a photocopy of both your passports.
- Have someone stay with the PLWD while the carer is collecting the luggage or ask for help from airport staff.
- Ensure the PLWD has identification on them, including the name of their travel partner and their flights. Try both wearing a Dementia NZ lanyard with a card explaining that your companion has dementia and may need extra support when travelling.
- Plan for situations where you might have to go separately through immigration booths. If possible, avoid using self-help booths, which may confuse and distress a PLWD. A pre-booked airport wheelchair allows you to go through immigration together.
- Book in with the concierge service for extra help navigating the airport.
- Manage food, fluids, and alcohol intake to avoid dehydration or intoxication.
- Put a bright familiar item of clothing on the back of the airplane seat so the PLWD can find their seat after going to the toilet.
- Walk frequently up and down the plane together for exercise, prevent blood clots and relieve restlessness.
- Take suitable distractions and activities for the plane and departure lounge to keep the PLWD occupied.
Dementia doesn’t have to stop you or a PWLD from seeing the world or spending time with loved ones overseas.