Some of our residents’ families want to bring Mom or Dad home for the holidays.
We want to recreate “happy golden days of yore,”1 as the carols say. We don’t want to leave anyone out, especially the senior members of our clan.
We always recommend starting with a trial run: a well-planned afternoon outing. (See our 5 Secrets to Coping With Alzheimer’s at Your Holiday Dinner.)
If that turns out well, you may dream of extended travel. A long stay requires more than following 5 simple tips. You’ll have to commit to thorough preparation – and perhaps a little soul-searching.
Your dream started with a nostalgic carol. We suggest a few different songs to guide your planning.
Travel Tune #1
Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.2
OR: The Horse Won’t Know the Way. Do You?
You’ll be the tour director on this excursion – in charge of even the smallest details. Plot each twist and turn along the way. Prepare a backup plan for every step.
- Will someone drive you to the airport? If not, how will you park the car? Will Dad get upset at the crowded check-in counter? Is he strong enough to ride up escalators and down long walkways? How will you carry the luggage? Does your airline offer special help?
- Have you prepared Dad for security procedures he may find threatening? Will they catch him off guard or off balance? Think about whether he’ll be willing to remove his shoes and part with a watch or duffel bag. Stand with arms raised in a full body scanner or be “frisked” by an electronic wand.
- Are you eligible for priority boarding? Help to your seats? Will the airline guarantee to seat you and Dad together on every flight? Are your seats close to a bathroom?
- People coping with Alzheimer’s often are sensitive to noise, temperature and other sensations. Can Dad muffle the roar of takeoff by listening to an iPod loaded with his favorite music? Will sipping water before and during takeoff ease ear pain? Does his doctor have a better suggestion? Can Dad shrug off a chill with his favorite sweater or a blanket?
- Have you checked on food and beverage service? Are the offerings appropriate for Dad? Do you need to make other arrangements?
- Are you prepared for the inevitable overbooking, delay or cancellation? How will you keep yourself and Dad calm when all around you are losing their cool? Is your carry on bag packed with emergency refreshments? Can you find peace and quiet in an airport lounge?
- How will you handle Dad’s toileting needs? Are you ready to change continence garments in cramped stalls or airplane restrooms? Who will sit with Dad while you use the bathroom?
- People coping with Alzheimer’s are easily confused under the best of circumstances. Hectic crowds are especially disorienting – and often frightening. Can you offer gentle reassurance all along the way? Where can you find a safe space for Dad to relax?
Travel Tune #2:
Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.3
OR: How Helpful is YOUR Carry-On?
Yes, your hands will be full as you guide Dad through crowds in the concourse.
But avoid the temptation to check your bulging carry-on.
You need to prepare for delays, missed connections or lost baggage. Once you reach your destination, you can relax and help Dad settle in rather than dash out for supplies. Keep on hand
- Anything Dad will need during the first 72 hours of your trip, and
- Anything he’ll need during the trip that you can’t buy after arrival.
At a minimum, your carry on should include
- ALL medication.
- 2 days’ supply of toiletries.
- 2 changes of clothing, including continence supplies. (Consider more if you’re concerned about spills or accidents.)
- A favorite sweater or blanket.
- Water and snacks.
- Something calming to pass the time, e.g. a small album or book filled with photos, a favorite magazine.
Travel Tune #3:
I get by with a little help from my friends . . .
I’m going to try with a little help from my friends.4
OR: Have You Asked for Help?
Professional caregivers guide Dad through his daily routine. They work together to prepare nutritious meals he can – and wants to – eat. They oversee bathing & dressing. They give medications and tend to skin tears or bruising. They check and change incontinence garments. They guard against tripping hazards.
It’s a big job even when handled by a team. Professional caregivers work in shifts, relieving each other so they can rest and recharge.
Who will stand in for this team during Dad’s visit? How many family members can you rely on to take turns at personal care? Are they knowledgeable and strong enough to handle the job? Have you considered hiring professional in-home caregivers during Dad’s visit?
In case of an emergency, who will stand in for his regular doctor? Where are the nearest medical facilities? Is Dad’s doctor available to consult by phone?
Have you planned your own respite care? Traveling at the side of someone coping with Alzheimer’s can be exhausting. Pace yourself. Be certain you’re well rested before the return trip.
Most importantly, be sure you’re able to share unhurried moments with Dad. You’ve worked hard to bring him home. Now relax and enjoy one another’s company.
Travel Tune #4:
On that midnight train to Georgia,
Said he’s going back
To a simpler place and time.5
OR: Will LA Prove Too Much for the Man?
After careful planning, you may decide that extended travel and a long stay are too much for you to handle. To be honest, they may be more than Dad can handle, too.
You’d like to take Dad home, but he probably won’t feel AT home there. Your home is not his home.
People coping with Alzheimer’s are easily confused and disoriented. Few of them like high adventure. They feel more comfortable and secure following regular routines in familiar surroundings. Most prefer simple pastimes and the company of people who love and care about them.
What does Dad most enjoy about the holidays? Share that with him. Did he spend long hours on a ladder every December, clipping wires to the gutters? Treat him to a tour of area light displays. Whisk him off just after dinner, and return him home in time for his bedtime ritual.
If he loved your mother’s baking, bring him a batch of favorite cookies. Better yet, bring undecorated cookies, and let him help with the icing and sprinkles.
If music was his passion, find a simple concert he might enjoy. A grandchild’s Christmas pageant – a community concert – carolers at the mall. (Plan for an early exit in case he grows tired or restless before the finale.)
Favorite holiday movies loaded on the DVD are a real treat – if you stay to enjoy his favorite scenes.
You don’t have to bring Dad home for the holidays. You can bring him a holiday you’ll both treasure. Don’t worry about recreating past celebrations. Meet Dad in his present. Create new memories in this moment.
Title: Denver, John. Leaving on a Jet Plane. Cherry Lane Publishing Company. 1967.
1 Blane, Ralph and Martin, Hugh. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1943. Emi Feist Catalog, Inc. 1944.
2 Child, Lydia Maria. Over the River and Through the Woods (A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day). Women’s History. About.com. Jone Johnson Lewis, editor. http://womenshistory.about.com/od/thanksgiving/a/child_thanks_lg.htm (December 3, 2014)
3 Bill Withers. Lean on Me. Interior Music Incorporated USA. 1972
4 Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. With a Little Help from my Friends. Northern Songs. 1967.
5 Weatherly, Jim. Midnight Train to Georgia. Universal-PolyGram International Publishing, Inc. 1971.