Dementia and Travel- They Mix!
Dementia does not stop me from going on vacation-though I would not be able to function without the support of my husband. Let me explain.
We have just gotten back from a five night cruise to the western Caribbean. In the distant past, before I married my husband, I was able to travel well by myself. I followed schedules, found my way through the airport/plane/ship just fine. I was able to follow directions, remember cabin numbers, etc. The cruise last week showed me the effect dementia is having on me.
Plans for travel were made completely by my husband. I can no longer make the travel arrangements. Luckily, my husband had schedules, boarding passes, passports, etc. well tucked away, easily accessible. He showed me where everything was, in case I needed to get to it. Then he showed me again because I didn't remember the first time. It seems he needed to do this frequently...and, if he didn't, I would ask about it. And he would say that he had showed me already, but it was okay, he'd show me again... and again... Thank goodness he is one patient man!
While on vacation, I felt like I was easily confused. Where do we go now? Which direction is that? Do we go up or down? What deck is the dining room? ... You get the picture.
One evening, after dinner, my husband needed to make arrangements for a tour, but I was tired and needed to go to our cabin. We were only one deck away, an easy to walk. My husband stood at the stairs with me, told me what to do once I got to the bottom-like turn right, then left and walk to the room. I did my best to remember, but thirteen or so steps later, I hadn't a clue in which direction to turn! I figured... it's a ship-how big can it be? I can't get lost! Might as well just pick a direction!
At the entrance to the hallway to the cabin area, I saw a bunch of numbers, like 3060-3508 and another set of numbers under that pointing in the opposite direction. I knew what our cabin number was (after checking my sea card), but the numbers listed made no sense to me. Anyway, I walked and walked and walked until I realized the numbers on the cabins were never going to reach the number I needed. I was doing my darnedest not to look lost. I realized then that I needed to be on the other side of the ship. Once there, I knew shortly that I was at last on the right course AND I did manage to get back to the cabin before my husband!
I had a second time when I was left alone on the cruise to navigate myself-this time in the open seating dining room on the top deck. My husband and our two traveling companions had brought their food back to the table which I had been reserving with my presence. Once I had gathered my meal, I made my way back to where I thought our table might be. I don't know how long it was before I finally found my way back, but I had almost decided to just sit down at an open table and eat by myself until they came looking for me!
I learned much from these two experiences. One, I learned not to panic. I knew that I could seek help with finding my cabin if I really needed it. I knew that the ship was only so big. Two, I learned that it was best if my husband and I went to the buffet at the same time. He keeps a watchful eye on me, steering me in the right direction as needed. Three, I learned to keep my schedule as simple as possible. I need to keep it on my person, along with medical information, in case of an emergency or separation from my husband. Four, I learned not to worry about what I can't remember. Just do the best I can.
As I have said many times, I am fortunate to have such a supportive husband. Living with someone with dementia must be frustrating. I suppose it's a bit easier if the caregiver realizes that the loved one with dementia is not forgetting on purpose. I suppose it's easier if the loved one with dementia is not too debilitated. I suppose it's lots easier if the loved one with dementia is not suffering from depression, self-pity, or anger. I wish things were different for me.
But wishing will not improve the situation.
It is what it is.
So, in hindsight, dementia did not make our vacation any easier, but it certainly didn't destroy it. We had a wonderful time. Laughed loads...Walked a lot...Enjoyed the heck out of the beach off of Belize... Built memories for my dear husband...Took lots of pictures to give me some recollection down the road. I suggest to families with any family members still in the early throes of dementia to travel and build as many memories as they can while it is still possible.