Traveling with a Demented Elder, diagnosis

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • Recently I was so dismayed to see a sweet little elderly lady (obviously suffering from dementia) and her devoted adult daughter, being delayed and searched at an airport checkpoint. The daughter was a bit heavy and apparently her underwire bra kept setting off the alarm, which finally embarrassed her to tears. The mom, seeing her daughter getting so upset, got so frightened and confused that soon she was in a frenzied panic.


    I was behind them and offered to try to calm the mom while they figured it out, but was sternly ordered to back up and stay where I was. It was so hard to watch the airport staff yell directions at the frightened mom, as if it was just her hearing that wasn’t working properly. Then they searched their bags and found some pointy cuticle scissors which were confiscated for passenger safety--causing the mom to get even more agitated.

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    I felt so helpless and realized that the lack of dementia education for public employees must cause heartbreaking scenes like this so often. And what is so ironic, is that I had somehow forgotten to remove a bright orange 6” box cutter from my bag that I use for opening boxes of my books at local speaking engagements--and it went straight through the X-ray without a hitch! (When I arrived at my destination, I had to ask someone to mail it back to me.)


    If you travel with a demented elder, it’s a good idea to carry a short letter from their doctor stating the diagnosis and possible behaviors, which may help smooth out awkward situations like this. And, by keeping 3x5 prepared cards handy that state, “Please excuse my mother—she has dementia”, you can show or give them to those who don’t understand what is happening--without continuously embarrassing your elder.


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Published On: October 15, 2008