How to Help Your Aging Parent Travel Safely to That Special Family Event

It’s that time of year when weekend calendars are jammed with graduations, weddings, award celebrations and other special family get-togethers. You want to include your aging parent in the festivities. But what happens when Mom or Dad lives farther away and is getting too frail to make the trip?

Here are some tips to help your aging loved one arrive safely:

1. Plan the shortest, most direct route.

Whether your loved one is traveling alone or with a companion, it’s worth the added expense to keep her travel as easy and time-limited as possible. Travel, especially by air, is tiring for everyone, due to long security lines, crowded flights and unpredictable delays. Having to get up early to get to the airport, arrive late at night, or make connections through a large terminal is exhausting for even younger, seasoned travelers. Whether your parent is able to travel alone or not, encourage her to spend the extra for non-stop, midday flights. And if she’s concerned about cost, offer to help pay.

2. Make advance arrangements for your parent’s special needs.

Airlines and airport authorities in the U.S. are required by law to provide accessible bathrooms at the airport as well as other accommodations, such as electronic cart or wheelchair transport to the gate. Plan ahead for special needs. Contact the airline’s disability specialist at least 48 hours in advance to make arrangements for onboard wheelchairs and other medical equipment. You’ll find a good overview in this article from Senior Care Advice.

3. Clear travel with your parent’s doctor, if necessary.

Here’s where you need to weigh the stress of travel for your loved one against his desire (and yours) to join in the family celebration. The last thing you want is for travel to trigger a health emergency! While there’s no way to prevent every medical crisis, some can be avoided with common sense and a healthy dose of precaution about what is really doable. Consider, too, whether the stress of travel would overwhelm a parent who might become disoriented or confused due to dementia or other cognitive conditions.

4. Be sure your loved one has travel insurance.

It’s worth the money to be certain that any medical emergencies are covered when your parent is away from medical support within her health plan network. Travel insurance also helps to cover unanticipated costs of cancellations, delays and other travel mishaps, such as lost luggage.

5. Accompany your loved one on the trip or arrange for a trustworthy travel companion.

Whether you (or another family member or friend) can travel with your parent is, of course, a matter of schedules and logistics. If your loved one is well enough to travel, but too easily fatigued or confused in high stimulus environments (like crowded airport terminals), or has special needs, then it’s worth ensuring that he has someone with him along the way. There are services that will help your loved one to make all travel arrangements as well as provide trustworthy travel companions. Be prepared and do your research: These services come with a hefty price tag.

6. If your parent is traveling alone, make sure she is met by someone reliable at the end of her journey.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Your aging loved one will be tired from travel. Even if she’s always been the gung-ho, organized planner of the family, give her a break, a warm greeting, and a hand with luggage and transportation to wherever she is staying.

7. Be clear about whose needs are being met.

This is probably the most important piece. Don’t guilt-trip your parent into travel when it’s really more than he can handle. In the age of the Internet, we’re fortunate to have options for virtual visits via video chat. While being there in person is preferable, there are times when cyberspace travel is a better, safer choice.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Omar Prestwich

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