Packing and Luggage
While it might cost a bit more to check extra luggage, when traveling with someone who requires assistance, it’s wise to pack one carry-on with everything that he might need during the flight, including medications, a water bottle that can be filled once you pass security, and a blanket, and check everything else.
Although the TSA rules indicate that medications can be taken through security without being in prescription bottles, it’s still highly recommended that all medications be transported in their original bottles to avoid any potential mix-ups.
There are travel services available if a senior who needs some support is traveling alone. Trip nurses have become more popular in recent years — the family can check with their local Area Agency on Aging to see if they have any information or recommendations. If there’s not a specific service available in their area, the family could also reach out to a home care provider and ask if she would provide the service.
More and more public places now have family restrooms. This can be extremely helpful when the primary caregiver on the trip is the spouse of the senior who needs assistance. A family restroom is designed so that someone can accompany another person into the restroom and provide whatever assistance he needs without having to worry about tight stalls and maneuvering stall doors. Make sure your clients know that the family restrooms are as much for their use as they are for families traveling with small children, and they should take advantage of both the privacy and the convenience that they offer.
If the senior does not use a wheelchair but may still need some assistance getting around the airport, many airports offer a transport service in a vehicle that looks like a golf cart for the senior and her traveling companion. Again, this is something that should be arranged at the time the flight is booked to ensure that the timing will work out and flights won’t be missed.
If the senior does use a wheelchair, it may be helpful for him to use airport-provided wheelchairs and a rental wheelchair at his destination, rather than trying to travel with his own wheelchair. However, this may not be feasible if the person has a specially designed wheelchair. Additionally, even if your patient does not typically use a wheelchair, if he is frail or weak, or moves slowly, it can be helpful to have a wheelchair at the very least to maneuver through the airport. Most airports offer the use of a wheelchair and an airport employee to push the person in the wheelchair, which can provide some relief for the companion. This can also help reduce some of the delays waiting in security lines, as they often allow individuals in a wheelchair and their companions to go to the head of the security and check-in lines.
It’s important to know, too, that if the person using the wheelchair is able to walk through the x-ray machine on his own, it will reduce time and additional hassle. If your patient is not ambulatory, he will likely be required to have a personal search and pat-down while in security.
If a wheelchair will be needed at the destination, it’s usually best to make these arrangements in advance.
If the patient does have his own wheelchair, it can be used to wheel him right up to the boarding gate and can then be checked at the gate. One thing to consider is whether the senior will be able to transport the wheelchair after getting off the plane. Most cab companies now have minivan options and large trunks, but if a family member or friend is picking the senior up from the airport, the family should make sure they know that there will be a wheelchair to stow in addition to luggage.
Oxygen and Other Equipment Rental
Most medical supply companies will do short-term rentals for people visiting their area. For things like oxygen that require a physician’s order, portable oxygen therapy may meet the needs of your patients and clients. If stationary oxygen is preferred, it’s particularly important to call ahead and make sure that all of the paperwork and details are worked out before the senior arrives.
If your patient has any type of dementia, there’s an increased chance for confusion or anxiety when she’s removed from her comfort zone. When traveling with a group, it’s often helpful to have one person who’s solely committed to keeping track of and meeting the needs of the person with dementia. For large family vacations, it can be helpful to either hire a caregiver to perform this role or to have family members take turns serving as caregiver so that no one person bears the responsibility for the entire vacation. If there are only two travelers and one has dementia, some of the tips above may be even more critical to reduce anxiety for both parties. Losing a loved one with dementia in an airport is scary for everyone and can be prevented with careful planning.
Additional Travel Tips
Suggest that the caretaker keep all travel documents and identification for both himself and his loved one. He may also want to have some cash on hand to tip the various porters who provide wheelchair or cart transport assistance throughout the journey.
As you offer this guidance to your clients and their families, you might also provide them with or encourage them to get a physician’s order indicating that your patient has health issues that require special travel accommodations. Not all airports will require this document, but it may still be helpful to have.