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.

Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia: Fun Fridays

SEPTA_oneday_family_passWhen we moved to southeastern Pennsylvania in 2011, we had great fun discovering all the fun things to see and do in the Philadelphia area.

How to get around. After 9:00 a.m., a family of 5 (2 adults) can travel from Thorndale to Center City, travel on the trains, buses, and the (seasonal) Phlash trolley, and go home again for the low, low price of $29 with a Family Independence Pass. (Individuals can ride for a day for $12.) It also allows you to avoid exorbitant parking fees — it can be tough to find a place to park for a day for less than $20.

Discounts and deals. Families on extended stay might also appreciate a Philadelphia CityPASS, which gives you discounted rates on popular attractions for nine consecutive days.

For history buffs, you really can’t beat downtown Philadelphia … Independence Hall and Liberty Bell are completely free to visit (you’ll want to reserve a spot ahead of time between March and December). My favorite feature is the “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches located around the historic district, and as far afield as the Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Lovers of the arts can visit the Philadelphia Museum of Contemporary Art (open Wednesday through Sunday) free of charge. The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site commemorates the six years this literary giant lived in Philadelphia (open Friday – Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free of charge). Be sure to check out the basement, which was his inspiration for “The Black Cat.” In August, Rittenhouse Square has Concerts in the Park.

Natural history lovers, we always bypass the lovely-but-costly Franklin Institute and head for the exhibit around the corner at the Drexel Academy of Natural Sciences. They currently have the “Dinosaurs Unearthed” Exhibit, as well as a reciprocal arrangement with other area museums. (This is one of the area attractions we buy a family membership.)

Foodies will love the city, too. First stop should be Reading Terminal Market, where you can get everything from handmade soft pretzels and other Amish specialties to fresh kielbasa, absolutely fresh seafood, and of course the iconic cheesesteak. Plus the best black-and-white cookies this side of NYC. Live jazz on Fridays from 12-2 p.m.

Outside the city…

If you’re willing to drive a bit further, check out the Adventure Aquarium (not free, unless you have the CityPass, but where else can you pet baby sharks and sting(less)rays on the same morning?

Another family favorite is the Valley Forge National Park, where you can roller blade, walk the dog, and picnic on a bench while listening to first-rate storytellers recount the trials and tribulations of George Washington and Company (seasonal). All for free!

If you’re willing to drive even further, it is possible to visit Hershey Park without paying a dime, by riding the factory simulator (assuming you can get out of the gift shop without splurging on the chocolate). Or you can just go to Lilitz, PA and visit the Wilbur Buds Chocolates, and watch the candy being made right before your eyes!

Have fun!

Next week I’ll be hosting a guest post from a mom from Chicago! If you’d like to share your favorite family activities in your area, please send me your article at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com.

Fun Fridays: Road Trip, Anyone?

Fun Fridays

As we load up the van to spend Christmas with Craig’s mom, it reminded me of a long-distance road trip I took with Sarah Reinhard and our kids a few years ago, to attend the Catholic New Media Conference in Atlanta. Do you need a “Road Trip Survival Kit” to get you through the next few weeks?

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with a van full of kids,  you know that there are certain items that you never, ever leave behind. Not if you expect to make it to your destination without one or more children strapped to the roof. Our “Road Trip Survival Kit” has a cooler containing . . .

  • Frozen juice pouches (to keep the kids from slurping them all in the first five miles),
  • Diet Coke (to keep YOU alert and headache-free),
  • PB&J (to toss in the back seat every time a kid spots a McDonalds and whines for sustenance),
  • Frozen container full of chili or other dinner you can zap in the hotel microwave (don’t forget the corn chips for scooping), and
  • Two bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (for after the kids go to bed).

In addition to the cooler, bag of swim gear (one adult takes the kids to the pool while the other unpacks the room and gets dinner started), and Mystery Bag (full of treats from the Dollar Store, to toss in the back seat at regular intervals to keep the chaos down to a dull roar), there are two more items in my “Travelin’ Mom Roadtrip Kit”: a rosary . . . and a GPS. They stay on my dashboard, always in arm’s reach. After all, a girl never knows when she might need a little prompting to head in the right direction.

It’s been ten years since my husband and I foster-adopted our kids, both of whom have special needs. And in the past eight months, we’ve had to face some extraordinary challenges that have resulted in a kind of mental U-Turn. More and more, I find myself thinking about all those things that I wish someone had thought to tell me ten years ago. Perhaps you have been in the trenches a while, and feel the same way.

If that’s the case, I invite you to join me on this road trip.  Rosary and GPS in hand, let’s explore that “road less traveled” . . . together.

What’s the most indispensable component of YOUR “Road Trip Kit”?

An Advent Adventure

snowy fieldThe kids leaped out of the car before it came to a complete standstill. I had been gone nearly a week, including an unexpected 48 hours holed up at my friend’s house. We spent the whole day inside, baking and overloading on an entire season of “The Paradise” on PBS. I had planned to spend the day traveling home. Instead I spent it curled up under a blanket, drinking tea and watching the snow swirl past my friend’s picture window.

On the way home, I thought about what a tremendous gift I had just received — a full 24 hours of absolute peace and quiet. I couldn’t bake, or wrap presents, or shop, or clean, or do any of the things I normally do on the weekend. All my plans went blowing on the proverbial wind. And it was wonderful.

Yesterday was Rose Sunday. In years past I’ve hosted a special tea the third Sunday of Advent, inviting a small group of girlfriends to take time out from the hustle-bustle of Christmas preparation. But this year, there would be no traditional chocolate poundcake. No beautiful table set with Royal Doulton china. No fussing or cleaning. Just a crackling wood stove and the aroma of Russian teacakes.

How’s your advent going? Have you had any unexpected adventures this week?