In 2013, AARP published a story about an 83-year-old woman who wandered off while traveling alone from Barbados to Washington, DC and was found dead. While this was the extreme outcome of that type of situation, it brought to light some of the major issues of older adults, particularly those with dementia, traveling alone. If you care for an older loved one who has dementia or some other medical condition or disability, and she absolutely has to travel alone, read these tips to make her journey the safest one possible. The number one most important tip is to plan ahead. Airline, bus and train companies are all familiar with unique travel circumstances. They probably have special accommodations already accounted for, but unless you contact them in advance, they might not be able to implement them.
The Transportation Security Administration had a helpline that you can call to get information about special accommodations for air travel. This can be especially helpful in navigating the security checkpoints at airports. If your loved one has trouble walking, arrange for a wheelchair and helper to pick her up at the curb and take her all the way through security to the gate. Not only does this eliminate the worrisome time between drop off and boarding the plane, but it also gets her through security quicker and with less hassle. If you don’t need wheelchair assistance, you can still ensure your loved one is accompanied all the way to the right gate by going with her yourself. Just as airports allow parents to go with minors through security even if the parents aren’t traveling, caregivers of older adults can do the same thing.
What a better way to ensure she gets on the right plane safely than seeing to it yourself! Make sure another point person is waiting at the other end of the flight, and that you select a direct flight to eliminate the need to change planes without someone guiding the way. One consideration for safe travels is to make the journey comfortable for your loved one.
This can mean travel times that fit into her schedule or making sure to pack her favorite book for the ride. You might also consider the type of luggage, and think about how easy it will be to carry it around. Multi-directionally rolling wheels on suitcases are a lifesaver!