I remember the occasion as if it happened yesterday.

I was standing in the middle of the baggage claim area in the San Diego International Airport (I think it’s called Lindbergh Field), tears in my eyes, struggling to retrieve very heavy suitcases off the conveyer. I had parked my father (who was seated in a wheelchair) in the corner and was also trying to keep an eye on him. I had pre-arranged with the airline for the wheelchair to meet us at the gate and transport him to the baggage claim (at that point, I was holding 2 carry-ons, a purse, & a portable oxygen machine).

Halfway down the hall, the airport helper decided that he was done…………..and LEFT!

So I now I had to figure out how to juggle all that plus my father in the wheelchair PLUS 3 more suitcases (We had Christmas gifts and he would be staying with my Mom for a couple of months), and get to a bus that would take us to the rental car.

Out of the blue, like an angel of mercy, appeared my best friend of over 30 years (no, we hadn’t planned this at all; she didn’t even know I was arriving)! I took one look at her and burst into tears. I can still remember the look on her face. OY! But praise the Lord for her appearance. She calmed me down and got us to the bus.

Since then, I have learned how to travel with senior citizens much more efficiently. I have learned what they can and can’t do. I have learned that airport security will hold up an elderly man (who can barely hold up himself) with an implanted defibrillator who can’t pass through the x-ray area for over 30 minutes because…..well, because they can.

I have learned that while you might let your loved one pack for themselves, that just before you leave, you REPACK their luggage (when they are not around).

Here are other tips for traveling with an elder:

Obtain approval from your loved-one’s physician (There are certain conditions that make traveling much too difficult or even impossible. For instance, I mentioned an oxygen machine – an oxygen TANK would not be allowed on the airlines. The particular machine that my father had “makes” its own oxygen so therefore was not a problem when not plugged into an outlet.)

Keep all medications in their original bottles & carry them with you. As with most persons who care for a person who has multiple medications, we used a weekly AM/PM pill case. This will not be suitable for airport security…the pills must be in their original containers with the prescription label intact. When flying, do not pack medications – people might steal them. When traveling by car, be sure to keep them in an area where they can easily be obtained.

Bring a notebook with insurance information, medical history, current medications (and stop and start dates), recent diagnostic test results, etc. with you. You never know when a hospital visit may be required. You can find such a notebook available for purchase HERE.

Allow a LOT of extra time when traveling by plane, train, boat or bus. Senior adults do not move quickly. Call ahead to determine if special services are available for senior citizens. Make your EXACT NEEDS known.

When traveling by plane, train or bus, attempt to obtain seats at the front so that the senior won’t have to navigate the narrow aisles.

When traveling by car, allow for frequent bathroom breaks.

Remember that seniors need something to occupy their traveling time, as well. The car radio or in-flight movie is not always loud enough for them to hear. Bring some cards, a photo album, earphones (if the elder can utilize them), snacks, or a large print book.

(Remember that although fluids will cause more bathroom breaks, it’s important not to restrict them because that can cause urinary tract infections.)

When staying at a hotel or motel, check for ADA accessible rooms that have walk-in showers, handrails in the bathrooms, as well as other important amenities. These types of rooms are becoming more available.

If you are traveling with a loved one who has dementia, be SURE that they have some sort of ID on them such as a GPS device, or a medical alert bracelet with information that will lead authorities to find YOU. You may think that you can dash into the rest room and return without incidence, but it’s not a guarantee.  Also be sure that your loved one who has dementia also has something from home that is very familiar to them, because they will often not understand where they are – a photo album, cards, cribbage board or special blanket can help them to feel comfortable.

If at all possible, do not attempt this trip without the help of another capable adult. It can be a daunting experience. At the very least, have someone there to meet you at the airport, train station or bus stop. Don’t end up crying in the airport like I did.


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