Elderly Travel

Having trouble getting your senior out of the rocking chair and onto an airplane?  Are you tired trying to convince your elderly parent or guardian to go on a leisure vacation with you? If you have answered yes to these questions, then this post is to let you know you are not alone.

Arranging travel for my mother who will celebrate her 85th birthday in a couple months has become a show and tell process leading up to the actual planned event.  No longer can we expect her to drop everything, hop on a plane and show up at our door.  Her once eager desire to travel seems to have evaporated into thin air, replaced by no travel plans at all, a dread of traveling far distances and not wanting to be away from her home no more than a couple days at a time.

Some of her children live in different countries (we often travel to visit her) and it is not always possible to go to her.  On these rare occasions we have her come to us.  Her recent travel experience forced us to rethink how we will execute her travel in the future to make it emotionally and mentally comfortable, if not physically enjoyable.  This is what happened two months ago when my elder sister took our Mom to England to visit our oldest sister.  She reported…

“The check-in and boarding process went fine.  Mom was wheelchair-assisted on-board the aircraft and escorted to her seat.  Not long after take-off Mom started nervously looking around at the other passengers.  She seemed disoriented.  My sibling inquired of her if she knew where she was, and she said no.  At the first meal serving, she refused to eat stating it was too late in the night to eat.  This was due to the subdued lighting in the cabin.  It was still early in the day, but the pulled shades caused her to think that it was bedtime, and she does not eat meals after a certain hour in the evening.  For the eight-hour journey she only took few sips of water, did not eat or sleep the entire time.

On arrival at Gatwick International Airport, again on inquiry, she asserted that she did not recognize the strange place.  By the way, our Mom has traveled to England on numerous occasions, alone and accompanied.  However, this time it was as if she was seeing it for the first time.  She was not too happy and became a little fussy.  My sister chose not to respond to her tantrum but allowed her to vent.  Only when our eldest sister appeared and welcomed her did she calm down but just for a little while.  The first night in my sister’s home she awoke and wandered the hallway crying not knowing where she was.  My siblings reassured her that she was safe, in familiar surroundings, and that she was there just for a short visit.  They spent the next two days reacquainting her of the home and neighborhood.”

In reading this account I am sure you might be saying there are a few things we could have done differently.  Hindsight is always 20/20.  We are aware now for future travel, what we must do to prepare her for the trip.

We often tend to think seniors have the best times.  Well, at least some appear to.  However, others may be suffering from early stages of dementia/Alzheimer’s/senility.  Whatever the medical diagnosis, careful thought should be given when planning a vacation for the senior who maybe living with one of these conditions.  Seniors become more dependent, less decisive, less observant, easily disoriented, and the least liked – incontinent.  Travel for them can be bothersome, panicky, if not downright trepidation.  How can you take away the dread when they travel with you?  Well, it depends on how well you prepare them.  Here are some basic tips:

Show & Tell – Start by informing the elderly of the impending travel.  Talk about the people, culture, historical sites, unique interests in relation to their likes.  Watch videos or specific programs to familiarize them of the place they are going to.  Plan an internet search activity, read destination articles or guide books.  Check the news of country and region to keep them enthused of the upcoming holiday.  Bear in mind, if your aged person suffers from short-term memory loss, they will like a child ask the “Are we there yet?” kinds of questions.  That is understandable and shows eager anticipation, interest and a comfortable acceptance level.   On the other hand, if they suffer from long term memory loss and completely forget what you tell them only a short while ago then it will feel like you are in a losing battle.  However, repeat the information as often as possible.  Give gentle reminders.

Interests – Older people are more set in their ways and are not comfortable living under the aegis of a younger person.  Therefore, choose a destination/activities that are age appropriate.  Do your research to ensure the locale is senior-friendly.  By that I mean, does it have activities you know your aging parent or guardian would find interesting and engaging.  Would the accommodations be able to assist with their physical limitation?  Are services and amenities easily accessible and available?

Physical Limitations – There are two ways around it, after all aging is not kind to the body.  The cry for pain can be constant. Restraint on how much they can do or how far they can go are realizations traveling companions must come to terms with and be ready to adjust. Be ready to terminate a leisurely stroll, scamper to a bathroom, and practice your masseuse moves on an aching body. Have a good understanding of their medications.  Plan outings around their rest/nap times. Read their body language which will help you know the times to relax and take it slow or to cancel an event.

Exude Confidence – Constantly reassure your senior that you are looking out for them.  Tell them often you will not leave them to fend for themselves.  Express pleasure in having them accompany you along for the ride.  Never be in a rush or exhibit irritation at their forgetfulness, slowness, or lack of interest in their surroundings.  NEVER get into an argument with the elderly over plans that were agreed to but which they might have promptly forgotten.  Arguments only exacerbate tense situations, cause your traveling companion to have a meltdown, and leave them feeling a little helpless and uncertain.  Constantly reassure them with your presence, love and attention.

Community Peeps, I have barely scratched the surface on this subject of elderly travel and the problems it can pose for families or care givers.  What has been your experience?  Please share to help those who would like to travel with their elderly but are afraid to because of the aforementioned issues and more.

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