Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter

Post originally Published January 13, 2024 || Last Updated January 14, 2024

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Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - The Growing Need for Specialized Travel

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter

As the global population continues to age, the number of individuals living with dementia and other forms of memory loss is steadily rising. According to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people worldwide are currently living with dementia. That figure is expected to triple by 2050.

With this surge, there is an increasing need for travel options tailored to those with cognitive impairments. General tours and activities often move too quickly and have rigid schedules that don't accommodate unexpected changes or individual needs. They also frequently require stamina levels, mobility, and mental focus that those with dementia may lack.

Specialized travel fills this void by offering flexible, supportive vacations for those with memory loss. These trips prioritize comfort, reduce overstimulation, and help travelers stick to routines as much as possible. Smaller group sizes, gentler pacing, and more individual care from guides allow those with dementia to travel comfortably. Accessible vehicles, trained staff, and activities tailored to different ability levels remove barriers to participation.
Melissa Freeman, who runs tour company Forget Me Not Journeys catering to those with dementia, explains the appeal. "Mainstream tours just won't work. But that doesn't mean people with dementia should miss out on the excitement and joy of travel." Her trips incorporate different prompts and cues to orient travelers, limit open-ended choices that can cause confusion, and build in extra time for everything.

Caregiver Shelly Olson raves about HF Holidays, which offers supported walking trips in the UK for those with dementia. "The small group sizes and patient guides made my mom feel so at ease. She loved reminiscing about her childhood as we walked through the beautiful countryside. It was a vacation that created special memories for both of us."

While customized tours are ideal, regular hotels and cruise lines are also waking up to this need by training staff and designating specialist personnel. Simple adjustments like keeping familiar room assignments, providing written reminders of activities, and using landmarks for orientation can make independent travel easier as well.

The social connections enabled through these specialized trips have huge value too. Lori La Bey, founder of Dementia Friends, shares that her mother loves "being with people on the same journey." Connection reduces isolation and validates experiences. "Travel offers rare normalcy, purpose, and community."

What else is in this post?

  1. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - The Growing Need for Specialized Travel
  2. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - How to Pick the Right Destination
  3. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Building An Accessible Itinerary
  4. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Traveling With A Caregiver or Companion
  5. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Being Prepared for Changes and Challenges
  6. Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Making Lasting Memories Along the Way

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - How to Pick the Right Destination

Choosing the right destination is key when planning a dementia-friendly trip. The location should reduce stress, stimulate reminiscing, and accommodate changing abilities. Shelly Olson considers her mother's past and personality when selecting destinations. "We focus on places tied to her childhood or favorite hobbies. Returning to these familiar locations brings her joy."

Connect the journey to interests or meaningful personal history to spark positive memories. If cooking defined their identity, head to a culinary capital like Paris. For a gardening enthusiast, tour the floraled fantasyland of Holland's tulip fields. Lean into nostalgia by revisiting somewhere they visited as a child or that evokes their era.

Eva López recommends Spain for her mother because she grew up there. "Mom adores seeing how her sleepy little village has changed. She talks for days about funny childhood stories each site sparks."

When possible, gather input from the traveler. Melissa Freeman has clients flip through magazines together and flag appealing photos. "It helps us identify what excites them. Often it's places they visited long ago and want to experience again."

Equally key is selecting a location that minimizes disruption andconfusion. Seek comfortable weather conditions avoidable in extreme heat, cold, or humidity. Busy cities and jam-packed sightseeing raise stress levels. Elizabeth Santos opts for smaller towns and scenic natural settings. "The languid pace keeps Dad calm. Quieter spots prevent him from feeling overwhelmed."

Also weigh abilities versus obstacles. Destinations requiring extensive walking or stamina challenges those with limited mobility. Jennifer Pierre notes her father lost interest in their Italy trip after struggling with the hilly terrain. "The constant stairs exhausted him." Now she chooses flatter regions suited to his decreased strength and endurance.
Traveling abroad adds another layer of complexity, especially for those lacking English skills or experiencing paranoia. Anna Chen sticks closer to home for her mother's first dementia-friendly vacation. "I don't want her to feel totally foreign or become agitated." Multi-generational trips with young kids might also pose challenges.

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Building An Accessible Itinerary

A thoughtfully crafted itinerary makes all the difference for dementia-friendly trips. Building in flexibility and minimizing logistics hassles reduces stress exponentially. Melissa Freeman runs Forget Me Not Journeys exclusively for memory loss travelers. She obsesses over each detail of their itineraries to facilitate a smooth experience. “We build in extra time for everything and limit packing up or moving locations. Transitions are often the hardest.” They return to the same hotel each night and repeat favorite activities to establish continuity. Freestyle exploration is swapped for guided paths and tours. “We create a framework they can rely on. Surprises throw our travelers off.”

Jennifer Pierre has fine-tuned dad-friendly itineraries through trial and error. “Now I know we need relaxing mornings before any big outings. And evenings are for less stimulating activities like music or stories.” She scripts their days around her father’s best times cognitively and energy-wise. "Understanding his rhythms prevents frustration for us both." Keeping group numbers under a dozen allows guides to tend to individuals. "One-on-one support keeps Dad engaged."

Building repetitions into the itinerary also creates reassurance. Eva López books the same hotel in Granada each visit. “Mom knows the route to her favorite tapas bar by heart. Retracing our steps brings such contentment.” She intersperses lower key days among intensive sightseeing. “By the fourth day, Mom needs a beach morning to recharge. Our itineraries now build in mental breathing room.”

Shelly Olson finds outdoor activities ideal as they’re less rigidly scheduled. “The walking pace adjusts easily when Mom needs more breaks. She never feels rushed.” Keeping recommended items, like sun protection, on hand precludes tough decisions. She builds in indulgences that spark joy too. “A bright flower market instantly lifts Mom’s spirits. I make sure we hit spots guaranteed to delight.”

Anna Chen swears by an early dinner followed by quiet evenings. “The routine soothes Mom before bed. She gets overwhelmed in loud restaurants so we eat before the crowds.” She schedules activities requiring more decision-making for mornings as well. “I learned over-planning her days exhausts Mom. Now we keep afternoons simple.”

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Traveling With A Caregiver or Companion

Having a dedicated companion completely transforms dementia-friendly travel. A caregiver or loved one provides continuity, familiarity and specialized support. Their insight preempts needs, cushions transitions and anticipates challenges. For those in later or more severe stages of memory loss, the right companion enables richer experiences.

According to Melissa Freeman of Forget Me Not Journeys, dedicated companions are vital. “Our guides handle logistics, but private caregivers know travelers’ needs best.” They help with medications, personal care and redirecting confusion. She encourages caregivers to room together. “Seeing their loved one first thing is reassuring.”

Even on group tours, Shelly Olson only travels with her mother. “I know her moods and abilities - guides can’t replace that wisdom.” As primary caregiver for 15 years, she provides emotional grounding. “Mom trusts me to handle any issue.” Her presence alleviates anxieties around travel changes or glitches.

For spousal caregivers like Mark Santos, joint travel sustains lifelong bonds. “Exploring the world together has defined our marriage.” Though now in a support role, he cherishes reliving their adventures. “Returning to the spot we got engaged reconnected us to that magic.” Shared memories deepen current connections.
According to Jennifer Pierre, solo trips enable each generation’s needs. “With Dad's memory loss progressing, navigating trips became exhausting for me.” Traveling independently restored her reserves so she can be fully present at home. And her father relishes male company. “Dad bonds with guides like old pals. It gives him a morale boost.”

Some family caregivers incorporate respite into trips. On a recent Spain vacation, Eva López built in downtime. “I spent mornings touring with Mom then she napped while I biked.” They reunited refreshed for leisurely evenings. “Balancing together and apart time kept us both content.”

Multi-generational trips also foster unique bonds when dementia enters the picture. Traveling with her teenage grandkids infuses new joy for Shelly’s mom. “Their energy motivates her. She loves reminiscing about my childhood adventures.” For teens, witnessing their grandparent’s condition firsthand breeds empathy. Interacting as equals creates meaningful connections. “They make more effort to have real conversations.” Travel unearths new sides of loved ones.

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Being Prepared for Changes and Challenges

Dementia-related memory loss brings rapid, unpredictable changes. Travelers’ abilities and needs shift day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Medical issues arise unexpectedly. Forgetting critical items derails plans. While challenging, accepting this fluidity prevents frustration. Adjusting itineraries and proactively troubleshooting defuses headaches.

Melissa cautions families to remain nimble. “We instruct guides to expect constant fluctuations. Calling audibles is part of the routine.” She stocks extra canes, hats, water bottles and layers to supply immediate needs. “Having every contingency covered means nothing can slow us down.” When a traveler misplaces their room keycard, she activates the backup kept on file. She builds slack time into scheduled activities. “Ten minutes can make the difference between an enjoyable or upsetting experience.”

According to Shelly, releasing control heightens enjoyment for all. She remembers one afternoon her mother pleaded to ditch their museum tickets and people watch from a cafe instead. Shelly rolled with this unplanned change. "Seeing Mom fully engaged, laughing and commenting on passersby brought me more joy than any artwork could." Now she reserves their most open-ended days for when Mom seems especially fatigued. “Going with the flow prevents meltdowns." Her bag perpetually holds snacks, distractions like a coloring book and mom's preferred sweater. "I have an arsenal of things to redirect or comfort."

Mark Santos embraces humor when plans crumble. “If we take a wrong turn and get lost, I crack jokes until Mom rediscovers her bearings.” He learned keeping mobile snacks on hand can make or break an outing. "I don’t care if it means bringing a whole picnic. Having the right food curbs Mom’s anxiety." After an accident, he started packing an extra set of clothes. “I’d rather lug too much than risk Mom feeling embarrassed.” Now Mark always confirms directions and protocols before arriving places. “Asking questions ahead of time prevents problems down the road.”

According to Jennifer, accessing medical assistance abroad proved problematic on a recent trip before she implemented a new routine. Now she researches care options beforehand plus translates key phrases. “I carry printouts for clinics, consulates and emergency services.” She photographs all medications and has doctors write prescriptions in the local language. “I don’t want language gaps slowing help if something happens.” She also packs over-the-counter remedies for likely issues to preclude trekking to a pharmacy. “A well-stocked medical kit provides peace of mind.”

Traveling with Memory Loss: Why Dementia-Friendly Trips Matter - Making Lasting Memories Along the Way

While dementia progresses differently for every individual, one universal truth rings clear – the time families have together is precious. Travel lays the foundations for meaningful shared experiences that become priceless memories. It forges connections, facilitates reflection, and celebrates the person behind the diagnosis.

According to Shelly Olson, reconnecting her mother to favorite passions is profoundly gratifying. On a recent trip, her mother spotted vibrant sunflowers growing in a field and became utterly transfixed. Though walking had exhausted her earlier that day, she insisted on trekking through rows of blossoms. Shelly helped maneuver her mother’s wheelchair down the dirt path until they were surrounded by a sea of yellow petals. Her mother reached out and caressed the satiny flowers, staring with childlike awe. Later, she raved about the afternoon for hours, poring over photos together. “Seeing Mom light up so completely filled my heart. I hadn’t witnessed her that engaged in years.”

Travel also unearths new facets of loved ones. Mark Santos never imagined his quiet wife would develop such a social side in her dementia journey. Yet on their cruise last fall, she became the life of the party and befriended everyone onboard. “My shy Ruthie turned into a social butterfly,” he laughs. “Watching her come out of her shell at age 85 was a joy.” They spent evenings laughing with new friends over dinner. Ruthie even tried karaoke. Her unexpected bravado gave Mark a glimpse of the woman he had first fallen for sixty years earlier. “Travel resurrected a piece of the person I thought was lost forever.”

The bonds strengthened with younger generations prove equally poignant. Jennifer Pierre’s teenage sons have come to treasure their annual beach trips with Grandpa Jack despite his advancing Alzheimer’s. Long days spent splashing in the surf and collecting shells draw out their grandfather's playfulness. After dinner, they gather on the porch sharing stories of Jack's globe-trotting youth over ice cream. Jennifer is moved to watch her boys engaged so attentively. “They know time with Grandpa is precious and they make the most of every moment.” Last summer’s visit concluded with an impromptu dance party. “Seeing Dad and the boys laughing, spinning in circles with such abandon - that’s the image I’ll forever treasure.”

Trips tailored to reminiscing foster similar connections. Melissa Freeman incorporated a ride along Route 66 into one tour since several travelers had fond memories road tripping that highway in their youth. The vintage cars, retro diners, and open highways transported them joyously back in time. “Everyone was chatting, singing along to the radio, calling out different landmarks they recognized.” For Melissa, witnessing travelers so present and vibrant eclipses any destination's splendor. “That afternoon gave them the gift of time travel. We created memories they’ll relive forever.”

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