Holiday Travel Tips: Traveling with a Loved One Living with Dementia

Dr. Macie Smith discusses how to help a loved one living with dementia travel during the holidays

The holiday season is known for being the perfect time to get away, make new memories, and enjoy being with loved ones. For many families, this means packing your things and traveling somewhere exciting or relaxing.

As fun as that sounds, there are still some complexities to the process that aren’t often spoken about, especially for the 6 million Americans who are currently living with dementia or other memory-related impairments.

For these families, the process of holiday travel looks very different from what you might imagine. That’s why I’m here to help you still enjoy the best vacation possible while ensuring your older loved ones are happy, safe, and healthy when being included in your plans.

Tips for Holiday Travel with Older Loved Ones

Prepare Early and Be Detailed

Traveling with a loved one living with dementia requires some serious planning ahead. For these individuals, last-minute plans can be incredibly overwhelming and they need to be made aware of plans well in advance.

Tell your loved one about the plans several times and provide them with as much detail as possible:

  • Show them pictures
  • Tell them who’s going
  • Tee up the activities are planned

In short, make sure they digest that these plans are coming up.

Don’t Travel Too Far

When dealing with dementia, it’s important to have control over as many outside factors as possible. When it comes to travel plans, this means staying somewhere in driving distance and limiting drastic changes in the environment.

Even for people who don’t have dementia, it can be difficult to deal with the lack of control that comes with flying. You need to be able to get in a car and go home if your loved one needs to, and when you’re stuck waiting on flights, that isn’t an option.

Bring Familiar Faces

Be sure to bring other travel partners who can help with your loved one’s caregiving needs and provide them some more continuity even while they’re away from home.

You’ll only be able to control a certain amount of outside factors, so bringing some
familiar faces can provide some much-needed comfort. When considering who to bring as your caregiving travel partner, be sure to consider the needs of your loved one.

While they might enjoy seeing their grandchildren or nieces and nephews, small children likely won’t be able to handle caregiving responsibilities. If your loved one has a full-time caregiver, prioritize bringing them along for your trip when possible.

Focus On Your Living Space

Accommodations should be a top priority when choosing somewhere to travel with a loved one dealing with cognitive impairment.

They may need a quieter living space further from all the action. They may also need wheelchair accessibility and simple decor. As I mentioned earlier, outside factors need to be controlled to the best of your ability when accommodating someone with dementia. That typically means reducing as much stimulation as possible.

A great example of something that may be overstimulating for an older loved one would be staying in an Airbnb. An Airbnb can be very similar to a normal home and can make someone with dementia confused or disoriented.

Hotel rooms are the preferable option since they don’t resemble a home and are different enough to let your loved one know this is a unique experience.

Accept That This Won’t Be Your Typical Vacation

Traveling with a loved one living with dementia, means that you’ll be in caregiver mode to some extent, and not full vacation mode.

While you can still take in the sights and enjoy your time away from the office, you’ll still need to prioritize your loved one and keep a close eye on how they’re handling the situation.

You know your loved one’s behaviors better than anyone else, so it’ll be up to you to listen to their emotions and maintain their safety and well-being. Get adjoining or shared rooms if you’re staying in a hotel, and make sure someone is always on caregiver duty if it isn’t you.

Lastly, don’t force them to partake in activities if they don’t want to. Let them choose their adventure!

You’ll need to be okay with leaving early if that’s what they need – their well-being comes first if they’re involved in your travel plans.

Beyond a certain point in the progression of their diagnosis, I do not recommend that you make your loved one travel elsewhere.

Instead, it would be best for their well-being if the rest of the family came to them. By listening to their preferences and judging their needs, you’ll know what course of action is appropriate.

If you do decide to travel somewhere with a loved one dealing with cognitive decline, you can still fully enjoy your vacation – it’ll just look a little different.

You can always rely on professional caregiving services like those offered by SYNERGY HomeCare to help you handle your loved one’s needs on the go.

Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to


For more information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download SYNERGY HomeCare’s free Memory Care Guide.

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