How Can a Change of Environment Benefit Dementia Patients?
Sometimes, a change of environment can be highly beneficial for dementia patients. For example, spending time in nature is known to improve mental health, and can effectively reduce depression and anxiety while boosting cognitive function. It can be a good idea to visit somewhere that the person is fond of, as this can help to resurface pleasant memories and spark conversation.
However, it is important to choose your destination carefully. Unfamiliar surroundings can be very stressful for people with dementia and busy, noisy places can easily cause overstimulation. When planning a trip for a loved one with dementia, remember to take their personal needs, likes, and dislikes into consideration.
Benefits of Taking Dementia Patients Out Of Their Environment
Taking dementia patients on vacation can benefit them in lots of different ways. Visiting a new place can provide unique opportunities for emotional, physical, sensory, and cognitive stimulation, all of which can improve the mood, health, and cognitive function of people with dementia.
Emotional and Psychological Benefits
Travel may be highly beneficial for the mental health of dementia patients, as it engages the brain in a variety of ways. Visiting a new location can stimulate the senses, thoughts, emotions, and memories of someone with dementia, all of which can benefit their mental health.
Sensory Stimulation and Reminiscence
Environments that stimulate the senses can help dementia patients to recall key memories. This is because our senses are processed in regions of the brain that are also responsible for storing emotional memories. Specific sights, sounds, and scents can conjure pleasant memories and positive emotions in anyone, including dementia patients.
Physical Health and Mobility
Getting out of the house and exploring a new environment usually involves some degree of physical activity. This is important for anyone’s health, but especially for people with dementia. Studies have shown that exercise may improve memory and slow cognitive decline among those living with dementia. It also has a variety of other health benefits, including:
- Reduced risk of physical health issues
- Improved ability to carry out daily tasks (such as dressing, washing, cleaning, etc.)
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved confidence and self-esteem
- Improved mood
- Reduced risk of falls and physical injury
Social Stimulation and Engagement
Social isolation and loneliness are prevalent among people with dementia, and visiting a new environment can provide much-needed opportunities for interaction. Social interaction stimulates the brain and has been found to reduce agitation and improve the quality of life among dementia patients.
Strategies for Planning A Vacation for Seniors with Dementia
Planning a vacation for seniors with dementia requires a special understanding of their needs. New environments can be overwhelming for people with dementia, especially if they are unfamiliar, noisy, or chaotic. Beyond finding a dementia-friendly destination, you must also consider the best transportation, accommodation, and itinerary for their comfort during the trip.
Assessing the Patient's Suitability for Traveling
A change of scene can be enriching for people with dementia; however, it may not be a viable option for everyone. When traveling with someone with dementia, it is very important to consider their health, mobility, capabilities, and comfort levels. Seniors with moderate or advanced dementia may find the experience more distressing and tiring than relaxing and stimulating.
For example, seniors with limited mobility may be unable to walk very far or find long journeys uncomfortable. People with other health problems may need to have access to a pharmacy or other medical care. Those with pronounced cognitive decline may experience agitation and confusion when removed from familiar surroundings. And, some people simply aren’t interested in travel, so you need to decide if it is something they will enjoy before you start planning.
Mode of transport is a key factor to consider when traveling with a dementia patient. There are plenty of options to choose from, but the best choice will depend heavily on the specific needs of your travel companion.
Traveling by Car
Traveling by car is often the most convenient option for people with dementia, as this gives you complete control over your journey. You can decide when to take rest stops, or detour to interesting locations en route. It also gives you the freedom to travel with more luggage and to create a relaxing environment with music or audiobooks.
If you are worried that your passenger will engage in unsafe behavior – such as unclipping their seatbelt or attempting to open the door – you will need to take measures to prevent this. For example, you could arrange for someone to sit next to them during the journey. People with advanced dementia may be unable to travel by car due to behavioral and health issues. In these cases, you may need to look into alternative transportation.
Traveling by Train
Traveling by train can make handling luggage more convenient, as there are usually staff members available to help with suitcases and bags. Many rail services offer extra support for passengers with health issues, which can be very useful when you are traveling with someone who has dementia.
However, as public transport services, trains can become crowded which may be distressing for dementia patients. Toilets on trains are sometimes hard to access for people with mobility issues, so this is something you may need to look into before buying your tickets.
Traveling by Boat or Cruise Ship
Cruise ships can be very a comfortable way to travel, and take away the pressure of planning every part of your trip. They also offer daily activities and entertainment, and the longer trip duration gives you the option to establish a daily routine while you travel.
If you want to travel with a dementia patient by boat, you need to make the operating company aware of their health conditions and confirm that they can accommodate them. It is also important to ensure that your travel companion has their cabin number with them at all times, as cruise ships are very large and often busy. This can be very disorienting for people with cognitive decline who are already prone to getting lost.
Traveling by Plane
Air travel is usually the best way to take a trip overseas, traveling with dementia patients will require some extra planning. If you want to take a plane, you will need to inform the airline of your companion’s health conditions and inquire about support services for dementia care. Most airlines offer priority boarding, which can help to streamline the experience and reduce stress.
It’s also a good idea to pre-book a taxi for onward travel from your destination airport. Airports can be loud and chaotic, which can be stressful and disorienting for dementia patients.
When finding accommodation for your trip, you need to consider the following factors:
- Accessibility for people with mobility issues
- Proximity to pharmacies or medical clinics for people with other health issues
- Amenities offered by the accommodation, for example:
- Meal services
- Vehicle rentals or taxi services
- Support services
The type of accommodation you choose can make a big difference to your trip. Hotels typically offer a more catered service but can be disorienting to navigate for people with dementia. A vacation rental or bed & breakfast can offer a quieter, more relaxing experience, but may not have as many amenities as a hotel.
Health and Medical Preparations
Availability of health services is a critical factor to consider when traveling with someone who has dementia (or, any other type of medical condition). Before your trip, you will need to secure:
- Health insurance that will cover any necessary medical care
- Accessibility to pharmacies and medical clinics in case of a medical emergency
- Pre-travel health checks and vaccinations to ensure that everyone is safe to travel
- Necessary prescription medication so your loved one has easy access to any medications they may need during the trip
It can be easy to get over-ambitious when planning a trip, but it’s often not possible to include everything you want to see and do. If you are traveling with a dementia patient, consider their physical and emotional capabilities when planning activities, and make sure to include time to rest and unwind.
- Schedule some activities, but stay flexible. If there are activities that you know your loved one will enjoy, it’s a good idea to research and book these ahead of time. However, you should intersperse these with plenty of downtime, and be prepared to work around any unforeseen health issues. If your travel companion is tired or agitated on a day you have an activity planned, be prepared to reschedule to avoid further distress.
- Weigh the pros and cons of guided tours vs. independent travel. Guided tours can take the stress out of planning excursions, allowing you to more fully relax and enjoy the experience. Independent travel, on the other hand, gives you more freedom and flexibility over your schedule, so you can take breaks as needed.
- Include plenty of rest days and leisure activities. Relaxing, restorative trips can be the best vacations for dementia patients. Travel at a pace that is comfortable for them to ensure they get the most out of the experience, and don’t forget to include plenty of downtime between activities. Also, ensure to bring along familiar dementia toys and products for seniors to enhance the trip's enjoyment and convenience. “Games on the Go” will be a great addition to your travel essentials, providing entertainment and engagement for everyone on the journey.
Packing Tips for Seniors with Dementia
Careful packing is key for maximizing comfort and minimizing stress. Take some time to think about your destination, the length of your trip, and the needs of your travel buddy, so you can be sure to pack everything you need (without including unnecessary baggage).
- Destination is a key factor to consider when packing for a trip. Choose clothing that is appropriate for the climate of your chosen destination. You may also need to bring:
- Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses
- Bug repellent
- Gloves, warm socks, and other cold-weather clothing
- The duration of your trip will determine how much – how, how little – you need to bring with you. Resist overpacking if you are taking a shorter trip, as it is much easier to travel light. If you are taking a longer trip, make sure you have enough clothing options for the whole vacation.
- Your choice of activities will also inform your packing choices. For example, if you plan to do some walking, make sure to bring comfortable shoes. If you are going to visit somewhere with a hot climate bring sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and clothing that will keep you cool and protected from the sun.
- Essential items for seniors with dementia may include:
- Prescription medication
- Emergency contact information
- Comfortable clothing
- Books, or devices for watching TV or listening to music
Planning a dementia-friendly vacation requires a little extra time and effort, but it can be highly beneficial for those living with cognitive decline. Traveling to a new location stimulates the mind, emotions, and senses in numerous ways. This can lift the mood of someone with dementia while providing a meaningful bonding opportunity for you and your loved one.
Vacations are usually more suitable for people in the early stages of dementia than those with advanced cognitive decline. It is crucial to consider the needs of your travel companion when planning a trip and tailor the experience to suit their capabilities, likes, and dislikes.