Thursday 19 October 2017

Advice You've Never Thought Of! Tips for Travelling with an Older Parent

My Mom grew up summering in Kennebunk Port in Maine - all her best memories are of playing in the sand and surf with her brothers and sister there. Now at 95, she has a powerful wish to return, but I am nervous about travelling with her. This guest post by writer Gary Simmons gives me (and I hope you!) a roadmap for success in vacationing with our older loved ones. NB: If you are caring for a loved one with disabilities, this post is for you, too! Same advices applies. :) 

Taking your parents on a trip is a wonderful opportunity for you to have an engaging experience. Whether your parent lives alone, has home care coming in or lives with you, you’ll have to think through how to travel safely and comfortably.
Going on trips with your older parent can present a unique set of challenges. But it doesn’t have to be challenging if you prepare properly. You’ll find that some of these ideas will work anytime you take your older parent out for a trip to the store or elsewhere, but let’s focus on being away for a week or two — or more.

Don’t be spontaneous
Trips with older parents need to be planned carefully, even if you’re going to the family vacation home. Allow more time for each step of the trip than you would if you were going alone.
I have friends whose vacation home is normally four hours from their home when they go themselves. When they bring his mother along, they allow five hours at least from her home, which is a bit closer to the destination. They know they will have to take more breaks on the road, and the process of getting mom into and out of the car will take longer.
If you fly, you need to consider layover times. You may be able to get from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 at O’Hare Airport in 15 minutes, but your older parent can’t, even if you can get wheelchair or tram service (which you should request). Crowded airports add to delays.
If you’re driving, think through how many hours in a day your older parent can tolerate in the car, and how often you’ll need to stop for breaks.
When you make hotel reservations, ask about rooms with raised toilets and easy access to the shower. Request rooms specifically set up for mobility-limited guests.
Request approval from their physician
If your parent has any major health conditions, make sure you request approval from a physician. Their doctor can also advise you on any limitations, and if additional vaccinations for the destination will be necessary.  
Have all your paperwork
Even if your elderly parent or parents are no longer driving, keep their driver’s licenses available or make sure you have their permanent state-issued ID cards. To board planes, and some trains and buses, you will need some form of identification. Making sure their passports stay current is also an excellent idea.
You should make at least four photocopied sets of the all the paperwork you bring with you. Having copies of passport, driver’s license/ID, Medicare and insurance cards, tickets/itinerary, and prescriptions will prevent potential hassles. Include one set in your carry-bag, while your elderly relative will carry two — one in his or her carryon, and one in checked luggage. If you are visiting relatives or friends, also forward a copy onto them in advance so they also have a record.  

Pack lightly and appropriately
With flying, the question of checked versus carry-on baggage always arises. If you have a large family group traveling, you may want to combine items into one large checked suitcase, with everyone also having a rolling carry-on suitcase. Heavier items, such as coats and sweaters, can go in the checked bag or bags. Make sure your elderly parent keeps at least one sweater out for the plane, however, because planes can be chilly.
If you’re driving to the family vacation home, you’ll have a better idea of what to bring — you know the weather there, as well as the availability of laundry.
Take advantage of what’s available
Airports are required to provide cost-free wheelchair service. Make sure you’ve coordinated that with the airlines. If there’s a meal service onboard, arrange for dietary needs in advance.
Make sure your elderly parent knows and understands what to expect during the airport security process, and wears shoes that can be slipped on and off easily.   
As part of your planning, make sure you have enough of your parent’s medication with you for the entire trip. If you’re going to your vacation home, of course, there may be a drug store nearby, which will help. Pack your medications in the carry-on baggage.
If you are flying, keep the medications in their original bottles. Liquid and gel medications must comply with the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, but medications which don’t fit are still allowed — they will just be screened separately.
Maintaining a complete list of the medications your older parent takes will be helpful at all stages. If your parent’s primary care physician can put that list together, it’s even better.
Daily planning
Plan the trip with your elderly parent. Everyone wants to be included, and including your parent in the planning will help. Choose a hotel close to sights you want to see to limit the amount of time in the car or when walking. Research hotels with special amenities for the elderly, such as complimentary wheelchairs. 
Planning together is the most important in a sightseeing type of trip. Everyone’s ideas of places to see are different, and some activities may be too strenuous for the elderly. Expect to remain in the same lodging several days in a row; most people don’t want the strain of repacking every day.
Your elderly parent will probably want a private bedroom, which provides privacy and the ability to rest quietly, while the rest of the family gets involved with something else. Make sure your hotels have elevators, and if you can, arrange for your elderly relative to be on the ground floor, especially if they have mobility issues.
Try to coordinate your meal times around their medication. Some medication must be taken with food and at the same time each day.

Be patient
Most senior caregivers know that the greatest trait they need is patience. You will have to be patient throughout the trip, as will everyone else in the party.
Make sure the trip is planned so everyone can enjoy the travel. Different trips involve different types of planning, of course. If you go to your family vacation home, then you know the routine. If you’re going sightseeing, your program should have something for everyone. Regardless, you will need to be patient with your parent.
Time for yourself
Make sure you have left time for yourself on the trip. You should not be a caregiver for the entire trip. You should also be a daughter or son, mother or father, wife or husband, as well as yourself, providing some relief.
You may want to consider finding a reliable home care agency in places where you’ll be spending multiple days. When your elderly parent has a rest day, you can sightsee if you have a companion engaged for the day. Your parent will feel less of a burden on you, as they will know you can enjoy yourself on the trip as well.
Traveling isn’t impossible with your elderly parent. It just requires more planning than you might do for yourself and your own family. But if you work through all the details, you should have no problem ensuring everyone will have a wonderful time.
Gary Simmons is a Certified Senior Advisor and Case Manager for A Hand to Hold. He strives to make the home care experience a better one for seniors and their families. Gary lives in Atlanta, GA with his family and loves taking Disney vacations with them.

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