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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Should I travel with my loved one with dementia?

Here is an edited excerpt from the latest issue of Wiser Now Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Tips that focuses on traveling with and without your loved one:

Many years ago I had an offbeat friend from Michigan of Czechoslovakian heritage whose sister married a Texan. At the wedding reception, all the northern guests were taught country line dancing as a way of introducing them to the southern culture and welcoming them into the family. My friend felt that courtesy called for an equal gesture on her family’s part, so she gathered them together, and on the spot made up a Czech folk dance which they dubbed the “Klotzky,” whose chief feature was “a jump step” and flailing arms. It was an immediate success, and I am told is now featured at all family gatherings. If your family is equally spontaneous, consider taking your family member with dementia anywhere you want to go.

Families who have more in common with Auntie Mame than Amy Vanderbilt, who delight in the possibility that anything might happen and can always be counted on to go with the flow are likely to put your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease at ease at many events. The challenge with graduations, weddings, high school reunions, vacations and family reunions is that your loved one is likely to encounter many unfamiliar people, places and situations that your understanding family members may not be able to protect him from.

Before embarking on a trip across time zones or state lines, ask yourself, in what ways will my loved one or others benefit by taking this trip? If your first grandchild is getting married, for example, and your loved one has long been close to his granddaughter, the extra effort required in making the trip may be worth it for everyone involved.

At the same time, set realistic expectations. If your granddaughter wants her grandfather at her wedding, but hasn’t seen him in a year and your gut feeling tells you that he will be more upset than pleased by the event, go with what will be best for his well-being. Will your loved one with dementia be comfortable in this out-of-the-ordinary setting, or will he be frightened by the crowds, bored by the ceremony, and quickly fatigued by the unaccustomed hullabaloo?

Think of your own ease as well. Are you worried that he might speak his mind at inopportune times, that you will have to constantly look out for him in order to protect him from others who are unaware of his limitations, and that in so doing you won’t enjoy the event yourself?

Think of your granddaughter, too. The focus should be on the people getting married, not on your loved one. If you, he or they would ultimately be more comfortable if he were not there, make arrangements for him to stay behind. If you think he could handle the wedding but not the reception, make arrangements for him to attend only what is most appropriate, and be ready to revise your plans as needed if you guessed wrong.

Not everyone lives in a wild and crazy Auntie Mame-style family, and that’s fine. When considering whether or not to take your loved one with dementia to a family affair, weigh what’s fair for all involved.

To subscribe to Wiser Now Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Tips, click here.

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