Should we take a family vacation with my dad who has dementia?

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DEAR DEMENTIA SOLUTIONS:

January 2017 – “Getting out of town every once in a while by taking a trip together as a family, with my parents and kids in tow, is something we usually all look forward to. However, because my dad has dementia, we’re concerned about him getting lost or wandering away. We would love to take one more family trip but we’re questioning whether it’s a good idea this time. What would you suggest?”

~Vacation Concerns

DEAR VACATION CONCERNS:

Family trips are wonderful opportunities for making memories and bonding with those we love, and I fully understand your desire to take one more memorable family vacation together. However, the question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Would this be a safe and enjoyable experience for my dad?’

To answer this question, you’ll have to do a bit of risk assessment. Ask yourself some key questions: Is your dad at a high risk of wandering away? Has he exhibited this type of behaviour before? Does he get disoriented in unfamiliar environments? Observe his behaviour in different situations and try to identify what triggers his anxiety and confusion. Remember that any occurrence of him wandering away could cause your entire family a great deal of distress and would put a huge damper on the trip.

Consider also whether you and your family are okay with potentially having to constantly supervise your dad during the trip or deal with any challenging behaviours that may surface. Often, when those with dementia feel lost, they start to repeatedly ask about when they can go home. Though this may seem like a harmless behaviour, it can also get aggravating for all involved, so it’s important to be prepared.

In light of your concerns, before paying a lot for plane tickets and hotel rooms, I would suggest taking a short test trip with your dad to somewhere close by. It can be a brief overnight stay, and would allow you to observe his reactions.

Routine and familiarity are important for those with dementia, so even if you choose to take a family trip, always have a Plan B ready and prepare for the types of behaviours your dad may display. I wish your family many more good times shared together, whether on vacation under palm trees or simply close to home! 

Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]

Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant, Educator & Author, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca). Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.

DISCLAIMER:
The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.