Two older adults walk on a sidewalk on a sunny day. One has his arm around the other's shoulder.
Traveling doesn’t have to be ruled out when a dementia diagnosis is made, but taking safety steps is important.

Traveling with a person living with dementia may look a bit different, but it is possible to do it safely with the proper preparation. 

Of course, there are various reasons why a care partner and person living with dementia may choose to travel — out of necessity, to visit family, or for leisure. But, due to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, such as memory loss and increased confusion, traveling can look different than it may have in the past. With the right expectations and preparation, it’s possible to have a safe, enjoyable trip.

What makes traveling challenging? 

People living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia often do their best when they are in their typical environment following a steady routine. Traveling takes people out of their familiarity and stable routines and puts them into less familiar situations that can increase stress. 

In stressful times, people with dementia are at risk for increased confusion, anxiety, and other behavioral symptoms. There is also an increased chance of wandering and becoming lost in a less familiar environment; however, if the care partner is mindful of these challenges and spends time planning in advance, they can decrease the risk of an emergency while away from home. 

Preparing for travel

Planning ahead will be key to any travel with your loved one. The most important step for traveling is ensuring that your loved one will not travel alone. Because the disease can be unpredictable, even in its early stages, independent traveling is likely unsafe. 

If you are traveling for leisure, consider visiting a location your loved one has already been to and is familiar with. That said, remember that even traveling to a place your loved one has been frequently, could result in an increase in confusion for your loved one. 

Set your expectations

Remember that your loved one may have increased symptoms while out of their typical environment, be on the lookout for mood changes. In many cases, changes that occur during travel are temporary. 

Plan for extra time

Regardless of what stage of the disease your loved one is in, plan for extra time in your traveling day. If driving, plan on extra stops and if flying, arrive early. If you’re stressed, rushing from one place to another, your loved one will pick up on that. 

Bring a travel companion

Especially if your loved one is in the moderate to late stages of the disease, consider bringing a trusted family member, friend or even professional caregiver along with you. This will help in situations like when you need to separate to use the restroom, pick up bags, and any other moment when you might need to separate from your loved one. Caring for someone with dementia takes support at home, and is even more important during changes in routine. 

Bring engaging activities

Especially when flying, be prepared for waiting periods, especially if your flight is delayed. Bring puzzle books, card games, and headphones to keep your loved one engaged.

Connect with your airline (if flying) 

Call your airline in advance to see if they offer additional support for people living with dementia. Some may allow for early boarding or early disembarkment or even provide guides to assist you and your loved one through the airport. This is an especially important step if your loved one has moderate- or late-stage dementia. 

Keep medications in your carry-on luggage

Keep a few doses of your loved one’s medications in your carry-on bag. This way, if you become separated with your luggage you will have a few days worth with you. 

In addition to medications, keep a list of physicians and medical history handy in case another provider needs to treat your loved one. 

Utilize wandering tools

Between the unfamiliar environment and the stress of traveling, your loved one will have an increased risk of wandering, even in the early stages of the disease. Consider using tools such as GPS trackers. This could be a tracking device or a GPS app on your loved one’s phone. Have a recent photo of your loved one in case you need to distribute it. 

Having copies of legal documents, such as the health care proxy, is key when traveling. In an emergency where your loved one needs medical attention from a local provider, you will have the documentation you need to make decisions and receive information. 

In addition, ensure that you have your loved one’s updated passport or ID handy and safe.