Delaware Hospice offers traveling advice for caregivers

DELAWARE — With Memorial Day the “official” start of summer it often means family vacations are just around the corner.

For many Delawareans, it is the perfect time of the year to get away to your favorite beach, plan that family reunion, or visit relatives far away. But what if you are caring for a loved one with a serious illness?

Depending upon their health, planning a special trip with them could be one of the most rewarding adventures of your life. A time that will allow you to experience wonderful things together and create fond memories.

However, planning in advance to ensure safe, comfortable travel is an important part of making this year’s summer vacation a success for all involved. Here are a few ideas from Delaware Hospice to help you prepare, keep the stress levels low, and enjoy your journey.

Step 1: Where and how to travel

Plan well in advance, if possible, and include your loved one in the planning process as much as you can. Time spent planning will reduce stress and make your loved one more comfortable throughout the process of getting from here to there and back again.

If you are considering travel for that special holiday vacation, look into tours and cruises that specifically cater to elderly and disabled people. If you are traveling to visit family and friends, simply give yourself enough time to attend to all the pre-travel arrangements which must be considered.

Also, ask the people at your destination to consider your loved one’s needs while they are staying as a guest—dietary needs, sleeping arrangements, and local emergency contacts should all be a part of the plan. Research all travel options before deciding which would be the best option.

If air travel is the ticket for your journey, sign your elderly loved one up for a frequent flyer program in advance of booking the flights. They may receive discount fares and special accommodations that will make the trip easier.

Book refundable tickets, if it is an option, in case there are last minute health issues or at least understand what the consequences will be for changing or cancelling tickets. Request and reserve special services ahead of time and confirm these services a day or two ahead of the actual departure.

These might include special meals, wheelchair or electric cart services, special seating, or human assistance if your loved one is traveling alone.

Step 2: Prepare all documentation

Since many elderly loved ones no longer drive, be sure that they have current photo identification.

A medical summary of your loved one’s condition should go along in your carry- on luggage, including any medications necessary for the trip, along with contact information for their primary physician and other healthcare providers.

Step 3: Security, Safety and Comfort

You will want to be sure your loved one is cleared by their physician to travel.

Medications must be in their original containers. If liquid meds are involved, ask the pharmacist to put them in 3 oz. containers so they can pass through security. The TSA will authorize larger quantities, but you are required to seek authorization well in advance.

EpiPens are allowed as long as the seal is in tact. It’s a good idea to have your loved one wear their medical identification bracelet or necklace if they have one. It can be life- saving for emergency people to know about severe allergies or illnesses like diabetes.

For dementia patients, it’s a good idea to have them registered with MedicAlert or Safe Return. If respiratory issues are a concern, make sure oxygen will be available if necessary and carry an inhaler as a precaution.

Medical equipment needed for the trip should also be considered. Be aware that hearing aids and hip and knee replacements usually don’t affect security equipment, but it is a good idea to notify the TSA before trying to pass through security checks. Also, be aware that pacemakers may be affected.

If your loved one has this sort of medical equipment, bring a letter from the doctor to give to the TSA, which states the brand of the equipment. External equipment such as crutches, walkers and canes can be maneuvered through security and stored easily on the plane.

Advance notice to the airline when booking the flight always helps, so airline personnel know that extra time might be needed. You can make arrangements for wheelchairs or electric cart transportation at the time you book your tickets.

If your loved one is bound to a wheelchair, you will want to make sure you are on a plane with double aisles so that the bathrooms are accessible during the flight. Plan accordingly. Here’s a useful website to research wheelchair access when traveling: http://disabledtravelers. com.

Step 4: Day of Travel

The day of your adventure should be a fun-filled day. Allow plenty of time to get to the airport. Curbside check-in is a plus for you as caregiver, so you expend as little time as possible lugging suitcases.

Layer clothing for maximum comfort. Have high protein snacks, reading materials, cell phone chargers and a camera to record the trip. Keep yourself and your loved one hydrated. However, be aware of the need for bathroom breaks as well.

If your loved one is able, have them walk whenever possible because travel involves a lot of sitting around. If your loved one is traveling alone, make sure someone reminds them about taking medications during their travels.

With proper preparation, your summer vacation will give you and your loved one many precious memories. Delaware Hospice hopes that you and your family have a wonderful vacation this summer!

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