I am constantly putting myself in the position of someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Part of that process is asking myself how people who are dealing with the challenges of dementia would handle being in the same situation I might be in.
This past holiday season, I was invited to do a narration at The Chorus of Westerly’s Annual “Christmas Pops” concert. As the orchestra warmed up before each performance, I sat patiently by, listening, and it occurred to me the difficulty someone with Alzheimer’s would have in that environment.
To my right, the bass violin players were tuning up, and the harp player in front of me, the oboe players a few rows back, the brass section, and so on. I was able to focus on each one as they prepared. When I focused on Molly as she tuned her harp, that was really all I heard as I was able to block out Luke, a bass player to my right, as he ran through a few bars of one of the pieces he would be playing. When I focused on the oboe players, again, that’s all I heard.
The point? Someone with Alzheimer’s dementia simply can’t do this as all of the sounds of a full orchestra warming up, along with the noise created by a concert hall filling with joyous patrons, is coming at them all at once. For many of them, it’s more than they can process and they are more than likely to let you know that they’d rather be someplace else.
It’s important that you remember that these limitations affect them every day. Processing and sequencing are a daily challenge for them and they affect everything, from dressing to eating, being in public, and traveling. They know they should get dressed but they may not remember the order in which to do it. Large plates of food made up of different colors and textures may confuse them. If they are in a store, going up and down the aisles, hearing music, multiple conversations, whining children, store announcements and so on, can be overwhelming. And if you’re traveling with them and changing their environment, you really need to be prepared.
If you’re considering traveling with your loved one you might find this information helpful. First and foremost you need to plan ahead to ensure safety, comfort and enjoyment for everyone.
Will you recognize when they become anxious or agitated? Do you know how to defuse the situation when it occurs? Changing their environment may prompt wandering, so pay close attention to them. Try to maintain as much of their normal routine as possible: Eating at the same time, bathing at the same time, dressing at the same time.
If you’re taking them to Florida for the winter, evaluate the best way to get there. Car? Train? Plane? Remember to keep their medications and emergency supplies with you, not in your suitcase. Heaven forbid that you need a little anxiety medication for them only to learn you packed it away in your suitcase, which is now lost somewhere between Providence and Fort Myers.
Let the airline know what you’re dealing with and ask for assistance: A wheelchair to help with ambulation, giving security a “heads up” in advance so that doesn’t become an issue. Don’t schedule flights too close together. You also want to plan your flights when your loved on is at his best. Finally, I’d recommend that you take out travel insurance just in case, have your travel documents ready to go, and learn where the companion care bathrooms are.
Know your loved one and remember it’s about them. Last winter, against my advice, a well meaning wife decided to drive her husband from Maine to their daughter’s house in South Carolina, turning his world upside down. She won’t be doing that again.
Questions, email me at email@example.com. And remember, Join the Journey.
Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.