Traveling with Dementia

mom going to seattleThis week my mother and I flew to Seattle to visit my sister Chris. It was the first time in the Pacific Northwest for the both of us, and we both had bucket list items to check off: My mother wanted to see a whale, or the coast of Alaska; I dreamed of having tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Sunday Mom gets her wish. I got mine LAST Sunday, when I took the Clipper Ship Cruise to Victoria for the day. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be … and I hope Mom has a whale of a tale after our excursion, too.

The thing is, we almost didn’t make the trip. The day before we were to leave, Mom’s delicate internal workings kicked up a fuss, requiring several doses of Imodium to get it under control. I remember what her psychiatrist had said on the last visit. “Your mom may be getting to the stage where travel is too difficult for her. People may need to start coming to her, because travel can be disorienting for dementia patients.”

Mom insisted that she wanted to go see Chris. I think that, like many times in life, the prospect was infinitely more intriguing than the reality. However, we started early, left plenty of time for rests, and contacted the airport ahead of time so they would have a wheelchair and attendant ready for every leg of the trip. We got there safe and sound … and though she is sleeping more than usual, she seems to be having a good time. I know Chris and I are enjoying this quality time with her, too.

Here are some things we did that I think makes the difference between a “not bad” trip and a great trip.

  • Don’t over-plan the itinerary … and build in some down time for both of you. The first two days mom stayed with my sister in her apartment, while I took a trip to Victoria on my own. Bliss.
  • Don’t cheap out. Pay for convenience. We got super-cheap airfares on Delta (who is now my airline of choice for traveling with my mother). It cost extra to check bags, but I went ahead and ponied up so I didn’t have to drag everything we both needed through two airports. I also sent a package via Amazon with toiletry products directly to my sister about a week ahead of time. Worth every penny.
  • Keep routines as familiar as possible. Bring a favorite pillow, her favorite bedtime reader, her favorite tea. Let the host know what kinds of supports would be most helpful (commode, shower bench or handles, mattress pads, etc.). Remember to pack a “travel bag” similar to the one you keep in your own car with over the counter and everyday meds, extra pants and sweater, plastic bags, disinfecting wipes, a change of clothes, list of doctors and emergency contacts (including your own cell phone number), copies of medical card and ID, and snacks and water. Put it in the rental when you get to your destination.
  • As best you can, anticipate the unexpected. Tape a small card with your name, phone number, and medical condition information inside your loved one’s shoe, in case you are separated. When you arrange for the wheelchair, you should also alert the airline that you will be traveling with an adult with cognitive impairments, in case he or she has a breakdown at the airport.
  • Be prepared to pay a price for the adventure. Either during the trip or afterwards, you may experience some temporary setbacks (tears, blank-face, belligerence, or a flare up of other symptoms). Your loved one may be happy to see your host, but be uncooperative or demanding with you, her regular caregiver. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but to chalk it up to the loved one feeling tired or overwhelmed. Tomorrow is another day. Make the most of it.
  • Remember to have fun yourself. Have your favorite treat or drink on hand, and let (or even ask) the host family members or pay a sitter to take over some of the everyday chores or just sit with your loved one so you can take a break as well. Put Netflix on your cell phone to keep your loved one (and yourself) entertained during down times.
  • Slow down, breathe deep, and notice the little pleasures of life. It all passes so fast … and the best memories are often found in the things you didn’t plan.

 

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Fun for Families In Chicago

This week’s “Fun kendra thorntonFriday” is from Kendra Thornton, a mother of three who lives in the Windy City. Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

As a traveling enthusiast, I am frequently asked about what places to visit around the United States and the world. Some of my friends want to know of a great place to go for themselves and their children. To me, there is no better place to take children than my own town of Chicago. Here are some places in the city that are friendly to people of all ages.

1. A favorite place that my husband and I take our children is the Field Museum. This excellent place of learning and discovery is not only for our children, but also for my husband and I. Every time we visit the Field Museum, we make it a point to stop by the dinosaur exhibit. The dinosaur fossils are truly extraordinary, and there are many impressive exhibits. I personally like the traveling exhibits that showcase various themes and wonders that are in the world.

2. An adventure that my children love to take in the summer is on the Tall Ship Windy. This amazing experience brings our family together on a boat that looks like it is from the 1700’s. Members of the crew are dressed for a pirate adventure. Both of my children love being out on the water while on the ship, and there are various activities that they can do and learn about.

3. Finding a restaurant that everyone in the family will enjoy can be tough. At times, my children can be quite difficult when looking for something to eat. A great restaurant that everyone enjoys is South Water Kitchen. It is a perfect place for children, and the menu is quite a delight with a wide variety of food. I know that when visiting a different town, people like to have local dishes and meals. Fortunately, South Water Kitchen, which was founded by a Chicagoan, has many local dishes that many people will enjoy. The hospitality is good as well.

Chicago is friendly to families who visit the city. These tips are just the beginning of great places that people, young and old, will enjoy. The food, activities, and adventures make it the prime place to visit and have a vacation.

Kendra Thornton is 37 and a mother of 3. Before being promoted to the full time position of mom, I was the former Orbitz Director of Communications where I was able to travel a great deal. I now live in Chicago with my family, where they are my number one priority in everyday life.

Tips for Saving Money When You Travel

I just stumbled on this post from “The Green Life” that offers useful hints on how to make your gas dollar S-T-R-E-T-C-H. As Sarah and I get ready to head for Atlanta (Catholic New Media Celebration … yeah!), we’re both looking for ways to minimize the gas pinch.

Ouch.

Incidentally, if you’re planning to be at the Eucharistic Convention in Atlanta on January 21, or the Catholic New Media Celebration (like Sarah and me) the next day, keep that Saturday night slot open … We’re organizing a Canticle/CatholicMom/CatholicExchange ladies’ night out! Stay tuned.

Tips for Traveling with Kids…

On Friday, the kids and I load up into the car and head for my parents’ home in Georgia. Friday we get as far as Kentucky, and Saturday we head for Cartersville.

By my kids’ definition, this will be a “real vacation,” as in “involving at least one overnight in a hotel with a pool, wireless Internet (my husband’s idea), and waffles.” Sadly, Computer Guy will not be with us.

So … I need to come up with ways to keep them entertained without turning on the video player that has remained silent for the duration of Lent (insert back pat here). Since Good Friday doesn’t seem like a good time to break that particular record, it will remain that way for a few more days. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

* Pick up some books on tape from the library … maybe this will be a good time to introduce them to the ORIGINAL “Narnia Chronicles.”

* Award my son his most coveted prize — a deck of Pokiman cards, which I have stubbornly withheld (not for any real moral reason but because I can’t STAND the little buggers) until he can do all 100 math facts in his substraction deck in under 5 minutes. So far he’s halfway there.

* Buy the BIG BOX of crayons for each of them, along with a monster coloring book and drawing pad. That should be good for two hours or so.

* Pull out the collection of children’s books my publisher Cheryl Dickow sent to me for their Easter baskets. (That’s my book at the top of the page, “Behold Your Mother.”)

* Pull out my childhood reperatoire of car games (license plate alphabet, I Spy, Cracker Barrel I Spy, etc.) and goofy songs (“I’m Wild About Cars that Go WAH AH AH AH… ooga, ooga,” “Austrian Went Yodeling,” “BINGO,” and the full Keith Green Collection.)

* FUN Basket: a basket full of treats they don’t get at other times of the year, to be doled out in half-hour increments. Ding-Dongs, Life Savors, blueberries, smell-good markers, little puzzles, and stickers. Plus extra batteries for their LEAPSTERS, which they can earn at the rate of one for every 30 minutes they go without bickering. (They need FOUR to get the game going.)

* Photo Box. Each of them get a gallon size bag with family snapshots (you know, the duplicates squirreled away in that box in the corner of your house) that they get to cut out and clue to a piece of construction paper. At the end of the trip, they get to hang their artwork in their room.

* Map Quest. Each of them gets an inexpensive map with our trip outlined in marker, which they get to put a star on each time we stop (or every two hours, whichever comes first).

Any of you have other ideas?