06
Jun

Holidays and Travelling with Dementia

Hannah MacKechnie Read 577 times

Holidays with Dementia

As summer is here, thoughts turn to jolly days by the sea or to jetting off to sunshine drenched days and blissful sandy beaches. Family holidays are full of treasured memories that last a lifetime and the well-being after taking time out from the routine of life can last for months.

For families that have a mother or a husband living with dementia, thoughts of a family holiday may have to be dismissed. The reality is that traveling with dementia is going to be more difficult but there is no reason that with good planning, a holiday cannot be enjoyed and benefit everyone.

Should you take a person with dementia on holiday?

The first questions to ask are: how well will your mother, father, husband or wife cope with the change in routine, the different surroundings, being confined in a plane or with delays at airports?

If dementia is advanced, considering a holiday in the UK with a specialist company is likely to be a better option for both the sufferer and their carer, and to ensure that everyone can relax to fully enjoy the break.

However daunting the planning may feel, there is much evidence that the emotional and physical benefits of taking a holiday for a dementia sufferer, far outweigh any inconvenience.

The Jones’ family holiday*

Margaret and her late husband Bill had taken their family to Llandudno many times and she loved to be by the sea. Margaret is now in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and her daughter Joan wanted her mother to revisit the much-loved family holiday location, in the hope it would stimulate old memories.

As the Alzheimer’s disease made planning difficult for Margaret, Joan turned to Radfield to help remove the stress and plan a structured week that would visit all her mother’s favourite places. She also arranged that a carer accompany the family to Llandudno, to stay in the beachfront hotel with them for extra support to ensure that everyone could really relax.

During the holiday, they visited many familiar places and this helped to stimulate old memories for Margaret and they made sure to take plenty of photographs for a reminder.

After returning home, Joan commented that her mother was noticeably more content and happy. She had also developed a special bond with the carer who had accompanied them and they often look at the photographs together.

The emotional benefits of holidays for dementia

Specialist holiday company Dementia Adventure have conducted much research into the effect of outdoor activity for people living with dementia. Their studies show that 74% of people with dementia lack the confidence to go outside, and 73% have fear and safety concerns. 

However, if a person with dementia does attend an assisted outdoor event, such as their ‘Walking in the Woods’ project, findings indicate that immersion in nature had emotional benefits such as: 

  • mood enhancement
  • spiritual uplift
  • stronger sense of self
  • having more control.

Physical benefits also experienced included:

  • better sleep
  • increased verbal expression
  • improved memory.

Dementia Adventure noted that during their holidays, an uplift in confidence is usually experienced by the dementia sufferer as they feel empowered to try something new, such as taking the helm of a boat when sailing. The empowering uplift effect has been observed to last for up to six months after returning home. 


59% of carers said that the holiday had a positive effect on their relationship. 76% of people with dementia felt positive after their holiday.


 

Can you fly with dementia?

There is no reason that a person with dementia cannot fly but it would be advised to consider the past lifestyle of the person living with dementia. For example, if they used to be a seasoned traveller comfortable both with flying and foreign climates or if their most exotic holiday was somewhere closer to home.

People with dementia get confused more easily by a change in their surroundings or by anything unfamiliar. So, if they have never been abroad before, it won’t be the best time to start now.

Flying can be stressful for all of us and airports have strict security measures that are restrictive and controlled. But airlines and airports have invested a great deal in supporting people with dementia in the last few years, following a government initiative to change the perception of dementia. 

If you are going abroad, check your health insurance and the health care policy of the country you are visiting.

easyJet

The ‘orange’ airline was the first to respond and join the Dementia friends programme launched in 2002 as part of the 2020 Challenge on Dementia

We spoke to EasyJet and their official response was:

“Every year we carry more than 450,000 people, including people with dementia, who need some extra assistance through the airport or on board. All our cabin crew are trained to provide this extra support for passengers with dementia.

“Any passenger who needs extra help whilst travelling can book our Special Assistance in advance when they make the flight booking or by contacting our Special Assistance Team about an existing booking.” 

Heathrow

In August 2016, Heathrow announced its commitment to be the world’s first dementia friendly airport by joining the Dementia Friends training programme for all staff. 

“Airports can be particularly stressful for passengers with dementia so we are delighted to be working with the Department of Health and Alzheimer’s Society to make sure that they get the support they need. We have started training our colleagues and making improvements so that we can be the world’s first dementia friendly airport”. John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of Heathrow

“Everyone has the right to be able to travel comfortably and with ease, and we all have a role in helping air passengers with dementia feel like they’re able to continue flying.” Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society

Gatwick

In December 2016, Gatwick also pledged their commitment to the Dementia Friendly initiative and were praised for the implementation of a lanyard scheme. The lanyard is worn voluntarily upon request and is a discreet signal to staff that a passenger may need special assistance. 

“By teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Society and OCS we’ve made huge strides in understanding the challenges passengers with dementia may encounter and how we can better support them, their family and carers.” Gatwick’s Head of Terminals and Passenger Services Nikki Barton.

Other airlines and airports are expected to follow as ‘Dementia Friendly’ becomes an integrated part of the UK.

Tips when flying with dementia:

  • Check the airline policy for assistance and medical conditions in advance – you may need to complete a medical information form.
  • Arrive at the airport with plenty of time, to avoid additional stress.
  • Put a list of contacts into your relative’s pocket and ensure they wear a MedicAlert bracelet.
  • Keep medication, insurance documents and medical certificates with you (not in your luggage).
  • Let the airport staff know when you arrive and ask for the lanyard scheme.
  • Take noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs to wear on the plane.

Holidays in the UK with dementia

Staying within the UK is possibly an easier option with the choice of smaller hotels and rental cottages but does still need careful planning. There are specialist companies that can help by offering a holiday with organised activities for dementia sufferers and their carers.

Dementia friendly holiday companies:

Disability Discrimination Act

It is useful to know that there are rights to protect anyone with dementia when taking a holiday in the UK. The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, both state that businesses have to make reasonable adjustments to ensure their service is accessible to disabled people. 

For the purposes of this act ‘disabled’ is defined (in part) as: ...anyone with mental impairments that have an adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal, day-to-day activities.

The act means that for example:

If you think that a service business has discriminated against your mother or father because of their dementia, you can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service

Always plan ahead and then you can enjoy your holiday

“Everyone needs a break from their routine now and then and this is the same if you have dementia. However, the very nature of living with dementia can make taking a holiday more challenging as going into a new environment can be confusing and disorienting.

The important thing to do is to make sure that the holiday is well planned in advance. This will ensure that plenty of time is allowed for the person with dementia to accommodate to the change in environment and also ensure that the pace of the holiday is carefully considered to meet the person's individual abilities.

There may also be a readjustment phase when returning home after the holiday and family members or carers must be aware of this and again allow time for the adjustment back into the home environment to occur with patience and understanding.” Dr. Hannah MacKechnie, GP and elderly care expert.

Other resources

Essential viewing with a wealth of advice: Travelling with Dementia [video] by Alzheimer Scotland “There is life after being diagnosed with dementia.” 

Holidays and travelling guide by Alzheimer’s Society 


*We have changed the names to respect the identity of our client.

The image at the top of the page is used under Creative Commons license with copyright credited to Shai Barzilay