The thought of going on holiday with someone who has dementia may be daunting at first. For those with dementia routine and familiarity help form the bedrock of their day, so to whisk that all away, no matter how good the intentions, can seem cruel. Yet there are lots of ways to plan and tricks to use that can ease the path and make quality time away a real possibility.
Firstly, just as with young children, make sure you bring something familiar that can act as a comfort, such as photographs, a blanket or pillow, favourite mug. These can help to make unfamiliar surroundings seem less threatening. Pack clothes in a logical way, with underwear all grouped together, or a whole set of clothes marked out for each day of the stay.
Do your research and plan ahead. Think about making an actual map and some signs to help your loved one. Give the person a plan of the building and also walk them around the building you are staying in when you first arrive. Print out some signage that you can put up around your accommodation, like toilet/ bathroom, bedroom, kitchen etc.
If you are going abroad, check with the airport beforehand about whether they offer assistance to families travelling with someone with dementia. Gatwick airport, for example, has a scheme where a discreet lanyard worn by affected travellers can alert staff to the presence of someone with dementia, helping to reduce queuing and check in times.
Ensure that the person with dementia has ID and contact info on them at all times. That way if they do get lost or disoriented it will be easier to reunite them with you. Some people feel safer with a personal GPS that the person with dementia can wear, so it may be something you want to consider if it’s right for your family.
While you’re on holiday, it may be a good idea to keep low level lights on at night in case your loved one is disoriented when they wake up in the night. There are apps you can use on your phone that give a night light, or you could bring a portable light with you.
If you’re holidaying outside of the UK, make sure you have medical insurance and take all of the documentation with you in case of a medical emergency. If you’re holidaying in Europe have an EHIC card – a free European Health Insurance Card. Prior to going on holiday, spend some time researching where the local doctors’ surgeries and hospitals are located in the area.
There are also certain holiday companies that specialise in assisted trips for those with dementia. Dementia Adventures offers just that – a chance for carers and loved ones to holiday in a supported environment (https://dementiaadventure.co.uk/). Revitalise (http://revitalise.org.uk/) is another organisation you might find useful when planning a holiday.
Always keep an eye out for signs of distress – your loved one may be feeling dislocated and anxious but may not want to worry you for fear of spoiling the holiday. Making sure you only plan one activity a day, and perhaps only in the morning, can help to lessen the likelihood of this – those with dementia tend to get more tired and more disoriented as the day goes on.