HOW TO TRAVEL WITH AN OLDER ADULT
An Essential Guide to Traveling With an Older Adult
by Adriane Berg
The idea of intergenerational travel conjures up thoughts of warm family closeness, laughing together, and newly created shared memories. But, the pitfalls and dangers of traveling with an older adult are rarely taken into consideration until a serious problem arises during the trip.
Fortunately, there are new and exciting resources that make it easy to pre-plan and travel with any elder, even ones with mild dementia, frailty or a serious mobility problem. It just takes a little forethought.
Identify If Assistance is Warranted
I have traveled with 80 and 90-year-olds and danced with hundred-year-olds that needed no assistance. In fact, they were assisting their younger colleagues. But, if your loved one has any issue with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), these don't disappear while on a trip. Disability does not take a vacation, but it need not spoil or prevent yours either.
Bathing and cleaning
As well as slight or greater elements of decline that apply to your travel companion.
All it takes to handle these issues is common sense, and your next trip will be your best trip ever.
Food and medication
Make sure that there is enough medication to last the trip, and be fully aware of what medications and food contraindications there may be. If you cruise, many meals are offered on buffet with great freedom of choice. The grapefruit or the highly spiced shrimp may be just the wrong ingredient to keep the elder free of gastric or medication management issues. Check the prescriptions they regularly take, and then check with their pharmacy for food prohibitions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, requires that there be no discrimination in travel, and also requires that free wheelchairs and other access be available at airports and train stations. However, if you are transporting your own chair or other device, like a portable commode, there is no guarantee that it will arrive safely. To discover the best ways to pack, fold and meet with baggage handlers, check out the Society for Assessable Travel and Hospitality, www.SATH.org; and visit the Department of Transportation's site. DOT.gov, and know your rights.
Cruising is particularly designed for the less mobile traveler, and has created a breakthrough by offering mobility aids, oxygen special beds commodes and other helpful equipment. One of the companies from which many cruise ships rent is Special Needs at Sea, www.SpecialNeedsAtSea.com. This company will also rent directly to you for trips that you are creating on your own, on or off the water.
Special Needs at Sea also offers a curriculum for travel agents interested in the disabled traveler. Although, this is a very different group than the older adult, the willingness of these agents to work outside the box is inspiring.
Professional health care aids
Depending on your budget, you might find it wise to have a professional aid accompany you on the trip. If you have never helped an older adult in or out of a chair, or made sure that there is no cleanliness problem, you really don't know what you're in for when you travel. Spend a few days as a family caregiver first before you undertake to be a travel companion.
Leann Reynolds, President of Health Watch Caregivers, www.HomeWatchCaregivers.com , headquartered near Denver, Colorado, advises that you plan sightseeing trips to include bathroom stops, that you have maps which navigate the shortest route to your seat in theaters and sports stadiums. Her company provides home health aides that will accompany you, matched to the level of care that you require.
Recently, I spoke with the daughter of an 89-year-old with early-stage Alzheimer's. The family wanted to honor Mom with a four-day cruise to Cozumel. Laura Marshall of SeniorBridge Family, www.SeniorBridge.com, set up a pre-trip assessment to be sure of the needs of the elder, and “so that we can match the aid to the personality of the traveler." SeniorBridge Family is a leader in complex care needs and is also available to help in multiple States.
Home health aid companies like FirstLight, www.FirstLightHomeCare.com, with 53 offices nationwide are always available to refer you to their franchisees that offer travel companion care. Karen Tucker of FirstLight Orlando-Winter Park is located in Orlando, Florida, to provide companions for your Disney and Sea World trips, or any other Orlando escape.
Trip and Health Insurance
Don't get caught up in concerns that spill over into anxiety for the older adult. Not only are intergenerational trips truly fun, but they can be the highlight of the year for all. It is simply that you must acknowledge that things can happen. Consider two kinds of insurance: trip insurance that allows you to cancel the trip at any time, and health coverage. Collette Tours, www.ColletteVacations.com, one of the largest and most experienced tour packagers allows you to cancel for any reason under the terms of their trip insurance policy, even up to the day of the trip. Allianz, www.AllianzTravelInsurance.com, offers medical coverage, trip interruption coverage, emergency medical evacuation coverage, 24/7 travel assistance services and more. Med Jet, www.MedJetAssist.com, will fly you to any hospital or health facility that you choose.
Don’t wear the elder out or leave them bored
Often the only difference between successful travel with an elder and disaster is the pace of the trip, itself. Getting on and off a tour bus with impatient strangers looking on, one night stays in hotels, and rushed meals can ruin everyone's good time and increase the possibility of fatigue. In our hectic lives we tend to create hectic vacations, squeezing in every last moment of sightseeing, eating and sport. Try a slow vacation with an elder who requires a slower pace and you might smell more roses yourself.
Another subtle issue is the need for rest and even naps. If you are interested in a full day of golf and your elder can make only part of the whole course you'll need a plan for their entertainment while you hack away. Too often older adults spend a vacation rocking on a Bed and Breakfast porch, sitting in a resort lobby, or even in their room, when they are truly bored. Your best friend is the concierge. They can provide a local person or even, in some cases, a staff member, that can suggest and implement activities suitable for the older adult. It might be a drive around town or a visit to the museum while you mountain bike.
The key here is an honest communication between the older adult and everyone traveling with them to be sure that they understand and accept that any limitations they have is not bringing down the trip. They have a right not to just sit out the day while others play; not every activity has to be simultaneously participated in by all.