3 tips for holiday travel with loved ones who have Alzheimer's, dementia

The holidays are all about spending time with family and if you have a loved one in your family who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s that time together is never more important. Traveling with them for the holidays may be difficult, but advocates encourage you not to let the challenges hold you back.

Emily Nicoll says she still sees the moments of brilliance in her 63-year-old mother Diane.  

“She has a great smile, a great laugh,” said Nicoll.

They’re a smile and laugh that frontotemporal dementia has not yet taken away. Other aspects of life, such as traveling, however, are hard.

“We thought we lost her for five minutes in the San Francisco airport,” said Nicoll.

They were all on their way to her sister’s wedding in California.

“We thought we had it all covered,” said Nicoll. “There was no way we were going to lose her.  And we all got on the tram to do to the rental car station and mom didn’t make it on the tram. And it was just a horrifying moment.”

Thankfully, they found her and the wedding was flawless. But it builds upon Nicoll’s first-hand experience in traveling with loved ones touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s, and her three top lessons.

“Number one would be plan for extra time,” she said. “Just give yourself the extra space. Because it just really needs to be dialed into where they’re at and what they need.”

Number two - slow down and plan for extra breaks.

“Even if they think they don’t need them, take them,” said Nicoll. “Again, it’s just a lot.  It’s a visual onslaught. It’s a lot of stimulation, so plan for those spaces.”

Lastly, find the sweet spot when your loved one is most attentive.

“I think in our case now, we used to do, we’d go to Christmas and church and have dinner, and that’s probably going to transition to be brunch,” said Nicoll. “Just to take advantage of when mom has her peak moments.”

Alzheimer’s Association Senior Community Services Manager Jenna Fink also advises to let people know your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“I think it’s really important for families to openly talk about it,” said Fink. “And to let other family members know what to expect. You know, when we do this family gathering, letting them know about maybe some of the changes that they haven’t seen since the last time they talked with them or visited with them.”  

Most importantly, don’t let Alzheimer’s or dementia become a barrier to spending time together during the holidays.

“As challenging as it can be, please don’t give up on the chance that you have, even if for a hundred percent of the day you only have five percent of that magic - five percent, it’s really worth it,” said Nicoll.

Those looking for more tips and information about Alzheimer’s are encouraged to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association. The 24/7 hotline is 1(800)272-3900.