Could there be a more seasoned traveler? Think of everything he has to cope with each year – a herd of temperamental livestock, a cranky, overworked staff, a brutal itinerary, a seriously draughty and overloaded vehicle, no air bags. There aren’t any Cracker Barrels up there, either. And at his age, too! Call him what you will: St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle – this is one road warrior who knows what’s up. The guys from Ice Road Truckers have nothing on him!
We just got word that KK has some travel tips to pass along. Given his seniority, special insider access and years of hands-on experience, we should probably pay attention here. And of course he already knows that many of us give travel packages as gifts to mom and dad, or are planning a trip with an elderly friend or relative in the upcoming months. So let’s see what he recommends:
- Plan accommodations carefully. If your parent or relative has a wheelchair, walker or other mobility aid, a mini-van is far more accessible than a two-door car. Keep this in mind if you are renting a vehicle. If you are flying together, be sure to request seats in the rows designated for disabled travelers, and advise the reservation desk of any dietary needs. Confirm that the airline and any hotels you use are able to accommodate any special medical equipment your companion uses. Book rooms on the first floors of hotels; if walking is hard at the terminal, request a wheelchair when you book so that an airport employee is assigned to help you get mom or dad to the right gates for the flights.
- Get doctor clearance to travel. Before booking any travel arrangements, consult with your parent’s (or friend’s) primary care physician to go over the following: are any special vaccinations needed for the proposed destination? is the destination safe and appropriate for the patient? are any special medications or supplements recommended (for anxiety, for example, or insomnia or other issue)? Fill all your parent’s or companion’s prescriptions before you set off.
- Keep it safe and simple. Being sensible and pragmatic about someone’s limited mobility or health challenges doesn’t mean you won’t have a terrific time together. But be realistic. Allow plenty of time between activities for rest, bathroom breaks and snacks. Find out everything you can about your destinations well in advance so you are sure your companions will be comfortable. And be flexible, too. Sometimes a picnic by a lake is far preferable to walking for miles in a frantic theme park or getting in and out of the car ten times a day.
- Bring along the essentials. Support stockings are a must if your elder will be sitting in a car or on plane for any extended periods – they help prevent blood clots and numbness. Bring along light clothing that can be layered. Include some hats, sunscreen, snacks and basic medical information in case of an emergency. And remember to carry plenty of water – the older we get, the faster we dehydrate!
- If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, here are a few more thoughts: 1). Communicate. Without overwhelming them, be sure to let him or her know what’s going on and what you will be doing, before and after each activity; 2). Stay on task. Dementia patients need routine – it minimizes stress, fear and anxiety. So try to keep meals, bedtime and medications schedules as close to the home pattern as possible. And bring along something comforting from home (pillow, picture, teddy bear) to help them feel safe; 3). Seek serenity. Avoid loud restaurants and crowds, especially if your elder is very tired. Move slowly and without hurry whenever you can; 4). Watch the clock. Sundowner’s Syndrome is real. It is marked by increased fear and agitation just before dark. Try to be back in the room before sundown. Close the curtains and turn on the lights as evening approaches to ease the transition; and 5). Know the warning signs. Keep an eye out for signs of agitation or anxiety. If you sense something brewing, remove him or her from that setting and find a quiet corner or other private spot where you can be alone together so he or she can calm down.
Off you go, then! And special thanks to Marlo Sollitto, at AgingCare, LLC.