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Safe Travel Tips

Twenty Tips for Vacationing
with the Disabled or Elderly
By: CaregiverZone

Summer skies and warm breezes make even firmly-rooted homebodies dream of vacation getaways. Though travel plans must take a senior's health into account, caregivers can enjoy many vacation options. Whether a beach cottage weekend or an out-of-state sightseeing trip, a change of scenery can relax and revitalize seniors and caregivers alike.

Ginnie Fonda of Coos Bay, Ore., and her husband Douw (pronounced "Dow") both loved the outdoors and camping and travel. After retirement they bought a recreational trailer and spent summers camping and exploring the United States. Like most serious RV-ers, the Fondas' trailer sported a map on its side, noting the states they'd visited. Theirs was nearly filled.

For years, Douw was pilot and Ginnie navigator on their RV trips. But near the end of his life, Douw's arthritis and memory loss prevented him from driving and Ginnie became both driver and caregiver.

"We traded the trailer for a van I could drive and took side roads," she said. "We could go slower and stop more often that way. We really got to see the country and meet the people."

Douw enjoyed reading the map and helping choose the route, and he liked chatting with folks they met at campgrounds.

Planning ahead

The Fondas would select a region to explore and then utilize a trip-mapping service. This helped them find scenic routes, estimate driving time between attractions and choose campgrounds they could reach before dark.

Planning any vacation calls for decisions. You must choose a destination, make travel arrangements, reserve accommodations, pack clothing and supplies. When you call to check on shopping and entertainment offerings, also ask the distance to the nearest hospital, should an emergency arise.

A pre-trip physical for the senior is wise, and be sure to pick up any prescriptions needed for the trip. When you plan, be sure to schedule plenty of rest. Don't let the senior or yourself become overtired.

It's easy to lose track of time while vacationing, but a consistent medication schedule is important, so set a timer to mark dosage intervals. Pre-portioning meds into time-labeled containers also may make them easier to manage.

Stocking up on supplies

Douw liked his meals to be predictable, so Ginnie packed his favorites for the road. Breakfast cereal, soup, crackers and other staples kept Douw's diet comfortably the same as at home.

Make a list of items the senior needs in a normal day, including medications, hygiene supplies, mobility aids and special foods or supplements. Sort your list into two columns: items to be brought from home and those that can be purchased or rented at destination.

If you'll be touring shops or museums, consider renting a wheelchair - even for an ambulatory senior. A ride between shops and other attractions will extend energy and increase enjoyment.

Take along a list of important phone numbers and, if possible, carry a cell phone. You never know when it may come in handy. And remember to take camera and film to record the fun.

Being flexible

Though the Fondas planned trips carefully, sometimes detours would force them to improvise. Once, when torrential rain closed a highway, they followed flooded back roads and somehow ended up at a casino campground. Undaunted, they made the best of their situation. "We went in and played and won a bucketful of money," Ginnie Fonda said.

Advance preparation makes for safer, more pleasant trips, you have no guarantees all will go as planned. Road construction, rough weather and re-routed luggage happen, but snafus are less stressful when vacationers are flexible.

Well-prepared travelers can stay safe and comfortable - and have a great time - through the turns a summer vacation may take. With good planning, you'll enjoy both your journey and your destination.

Car travel - seniors with physical impairments
  • Stop for breaks - stretch about once an hour.

  • Take bottled water and light, non-salty snacks like soft-dried fruit or finger sandwiches.

  • Take binoculars to bring interesting scenery up close.

  • Carry extra pillows to prop up the senior for a better view.

  • Carry an emergency road-service card, in case of car troubles.

  • If altitude is higher than the senior is used to, breathing may be difficult. Ask your physician about carrying auxiliary oxygen.

Plane travel - seniors with physical impairments
  • Wear soft clothing and remove or loosen the senior's shoes for improved circulation.

  • Change position frequently and let the senior move around the cabin when possible.

  • Carry prescriptions with you, rather than putting them in the luggage you check in.

  • Offer water or juice, but avoid coffee, tea and alcohol -- diuretics that promote dehydration.

  • Vegetarian in-flight meals are lighter and often more palatable than regular fare. You can order them in advance from the airline.

  • Fly on off times when it is less crowded.

  • Bulkhead seats and first class offer more leg room.

Travel tips for seniors with mild dementia
  • Seniors should wear an ID tag listing their name, your name, your destination, name and number of a local contact, and home phone.

  • Collect postcards and tourist information in a folder to serve as reminders of your vacation.

  • When traveling to familiar destinations, encourage the senior to reminisce about previous visits.

  • If you'll be visiting relatives, take along photos to freshen the senior's memory.

  • Maintain a normal schedule of mealtimes, bedtime and rising.

Safety and comfort for seniors and caregivers
  • Wear sunglasses, hat and sun screen, even on hazy days.

  • Eat smaller, frequent meals -- avoid fasting or overeating.

  • Wear loose clothing for better blood circulation.

  • Schedule rest periods each day -- vacations are supposed to be relaxing.

  • Thieves prey upon tourists, so don't leave valuables in hotel rooms and avoid flashing expensive jewelry.


© CaregiverZone