Whoo hoo it is coming up to holiday time and travelling is often part of the adventure! And for many, with families scattered across the globe, travelling is unavoidable if you want to see your loved ones.
Most of us enjoy getting away but when you are frailer, have a disability, tire more readily, or are living with dementia travelling for a holiday or to a family event whether interstate or overseas can more challenging for all concerned. However, over the last few decades travel companies, airlines, car hire companies have made it easier to travel successfully and with careful planning that holiday can be had, but you do need to plan and prepare carefully.
Choosing that holiday destination or type of holiday experience
Cruises are popular for good reason, there is usually a medical practitioner or other health professional on board, the boat takes you to the next interesting spot with minimal need to pack and unpack, when tiredness becomes an issue your bed can be accessed for a restorative nap and food requirements are generally catered for.
Resorts and clubs often cater for older travellers with conveniently located facilities on one site including being able to arrange for a Doctor to attend to you if a problem arises.
The advent of Airbnb and house swapping has also increased the range of holiday locations. In choosing a spot to book make sure you check out the location’s access to shops, from practical experience it becomes very difficult if the lovely house you have booked is a kilometer away from the nearest shop, you need food and your elderly relative is unable to walk or be left for any length of time.
Escorted bus travel with hotel stays remains a very popular option with the added advantage of assistance and transport.
Many airlines offer an escort service using either a motorised cart, wheelchair and some assistance with moving through the airport. However, this does vary considerably, and you must contact the airline to determine what can be supplied. Some airports are huge and even with assistance considerable walking may be required so allow plenty of time. On the plane you must be able to manage in the bathroom unassisted, or have a carer with you to assist, as the cabin crew generally are unable to provide assistance. Some airlines offer discounted passage for carers – conditions apply so check with each airline.
Staying safe and comfortable when away from home – the do’s and don’ts:
- Check travel advice. Before going overseas, check the latest travel advisories on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smart Traveller website. This can help you avoid trouble on your journey and offer specific travel advice tailored to your destination.
- Visit your doctor.If you’ve got a history of medical problems or pre-existing conditions, visit your doctor for a check-up before booking your trip. Your doctor can tell you if it’s safe for you to travel, offer tips on how you can look after your health during your trip, and advise you of any vaccinations you should have before travelling. A summary document detailing your health conditions and medications is handy to have on you.
- Manage your medication. Your doctor can also ensure that you have enough medication for your journey. Make sure you always have easy access to your medications and remember that some medications that are legal in Australia may not be available overseas, so take them with you and a letter from your Doctor. If you are changing time zones discuss with your pharmacist, the timing of medications and have the instructions written down as to when to take using the 24-hour clock.
- Plan ahead.Do you have special seating requirements for plane or bus travel? Do you need to be close to a toilet? Will you need to travel with a wheelchair or guide dog? If so, make sure you organise any special arrangements with airlines and tour operators well before your scheduled departure date.
- Looking after your luggage.Pack a medical/emergency kit in your carry-on with all the essential items you need. In addition, rather than lugging around a heavy bag everywhere you go, make sure your suitcase has wheels and is easy to manoeuvre.
- Reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is the formation of blood clots in the veins of the legs, and there’s an increased risk of this potentially serious condition when you sit still for long periods of time. If you’re on a long-haul flight or bus trip, make sure to regularly stretch your legs and feet and to get up and walk around whenever possible.
- Jet lag. When flying most of us when crossing time zones will get jetlag and this not only tends to get worse as we age but may be exacerbated when living with dementia. Allow yourself some extra time to recover. Tips and tricks to help reduce the severity of jetlag include light exercise on the day of travel, drinking lots of water and staying away from the alcohol, eat lightly and as our bowels tend not to function as well as we age monitoring the state of our bowels and taking extra fluids and increased fibre to help things along. Sleep during times when it is night in your destination point and regularly stretch and move.
- Avoid tummy troubles. Unsure of the water supply at your destination? Drink bottled water only. Also remember to practise good food hygiene at all times, avoid eating street food and avoid buffets.
- Be careful regarding how much you drink, the combination of tiredness, alcohol, different environment, floor surfaces and lighting can lead to a fall.
- Clothing and footwear. Hats, protective footwear, comfortable clothing can make a difference, if you or your travelling companion needs continence products, take them with you and make sure you take plastic bags for disposing of them safely. Double bagging them will be needed and odour absorbing bags are more pleasant for all concerned.
- Take it easy.Resist the temptation to pack too many activities, events and experiences into your holiday. Make sure there are plenty of gaps in your itinerary so that you can put your feet up, relax and get some rest if necessary. If you are living with dementia or travelling with someone who is, consider travelling in the morning so that a rest is possible later in the day.
- Stay safe.Avoid travelling on your own at night, don’t carry large sums of money and consider wearing valuables on a belt under your clothes. When in busy public areas, keep an eye out for pickpockets and thieves. A small night light can be handy to have on (with any necessary power point adapter) during the night to enable you to find the toilet easily.
- Travel insurance. Yes, it is expensive, and it can take a bit of work to obtain it, but you really don’t want to be spending months overseas because you can’t be repatriated home.
- Know who to call if you need help.Make sure you know the relevant emergency services number(s) to call at your destination if you ever need help. Have your travel insurer’s emergency assistance number handy at all times and give it to your travelling companion. Make a note of how you can get in contact with an Australian embassy if required.
Daunted? Don’t be, PCCC very own Rosemary H, has travelled with her Father who has dementia. Here is what Ro has to say -having travelled overseas with my father who is living with Alzheimer’s to see his grandson and fulfil a life-long ambition to travel to Japan I can honestly say it was one of the great experiences of a lifetime for all of us. Dad had extraordinary pleasure getting ready, looking at brochures and practicing eating sushi at the local sushi outlet at his shopping centre. Once there I got to see Japan through different eyes, there is a lot of fun to had watching Japanese TV game shows and the lack of Japanese language skills no problem for a man who was already using a combination of guessing, charades and descriptive sentences to work out what is going on. On arrival home his care team and friends kept the pleasures of the trip front of mind for him as they leafed through the photos.