By Barbra Cohn
My husband Morris loved to travel so much he memorizes plane and train schedules for fun— that is until he developed Alzheimer’s. When he was unable to convert dollars into the local currency on our 25th anniversary trip through France and Spain, I realized something was very wrong. He followed me like a puppy dog around Barcelona and was afraid to hop on the subway. I was forced to read maps (not something I’m great at), and choose where to go and what to see, without any input. It was like traveling with a young child. My suspicion that he had Alzheimer’s was confirmed when we returned home.
That winter we went to an all-inclusive Mexico resort on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, to escape from our new reality. The last-minute get-away helped alleviate the stress of worrying about the future. But I couldn’t totally relax, as I quickly learned you can’t trust someone with dementia to find their way back to an unfamiliar hotel room.
Morris had been an avid lap-pool swimmer, so on a later trip to Glenwood Springs for a soak in the mineral pools, I was concerned that he would have trouble getting dressed in the locker room without my help. My first question to the staff was, “Do you have a family changing room?” They actually have two, complete with toilet, sink, shower, and fold-down bench. There are also three ADA (American Disabilities Act)-accessible rooms in the new restroom facility near the kid’s area at the west end of the property.
Changing was easy. But Morris was afraid to get into the pool. I later learned that people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty with depth perception and peripheral vision. Their eyes might be healthy, but changes in the brain affect the way they process visual information and alters perception of the world and how they understand it.
I wish I had known this before our family took a trip to Arches National Park. Morris was terrified as we slowly made our way through the Devil’s Garden. And I became impatient with him, not realizing that he probably felt as though he was about to fall off a cliff.
The good news is that you can travel with someone who has dementia. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s doable in the early stages. It just takes more planning, patience, and time as routines will be disrupted. Here’s how to make it easier on yourself and the person you’re caring for.
Following these tips helped when our family took a fun trip to Hawaii with Morris after his diagnosis. It was even more special than our previous trips because we wanted to enjoy every precious moment together.
Barbra Cohn is a frequent contributor to EnCompass Magazine and the author of Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Read her blog at barbracohn.com.
Photo Credit: © Dreamstime.com/Brian Wolski