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Supporting a person with dementia to go on holiday

Here are some common questions our Helpline receives about holidays.

Holidays can be a perfect opportunity to reconnect with a loved one, recharge your batteries and de-stress. And while holidaying with a person living with dementia can be more challenging, with some preparation, it can still be enjoyable and a time to make new, precious memories.

Here are some common questions our Helpline receives about holidays.

How should I prepare for a holiday?

Although plans can and do go wrong, preparing for how your trip will unfold and how the person with dementia might respond can ease some of the anxiety. For example, you could travel at quieter times such as off peak and outside rush hour and have a back-up plan in case of delays, cancellations or traffic jams.

You could also pre-book tickets for popular excursions or places of interest to avoid long queues which can be unsettling for people with dementia.

Where should I stay?

If you are going on a package holiday, you can ask the company to let the holiday representative know that the person you are travelling with has dementia. They will then inform the hotel and can discreetly offer support if it is needed.

Consider the size of the accommodation. Large hotels may be overwhelming, so a smaller hotel with good signage may be more suitable for a person with dementia. The person may also prefer to be on the ground floor, closer to the amenities and assistance if it is needed. You could consider taking a portable door sensor or alarm to alert you if the person leaves the hotel room, especially if you are staying in separate rooms.

Alternatively, you could look for smaller, self-contained accommodation like a private house or apartment that offers a more home-from-home atmosphere.

Some people find organised coach tours take the stress out of holidays. You can make special requests in advance – for example, asking to be seated near the toilet – and travellers tend to get to know one another well and will often look out for the person with dementia.

Cruises can also be a relatively stress-free option, as you can inform the onboard staff and other passengers that the person you are travelling with has dementia so they can offer support.

If you would like to go on a supported holiday there are some organisations which offer this, such as Dementia Adventure and Revitalise.

What should I pack for a holiday?

If the person with dementia wants and is able to pack their own bags, support them to make sure what are they taking is appropriate to the type of holiday and the weather at the destination. It is worth double-checking any bags shortly before setting off to make sure nothing has been added or removed.

Seeing packed bags might cause the person anxiety if they have forgotten that they are going on a trip, so once suitcases are packed, you could store them in the boot of car or a room that isn’t used very often.

It is important to take any medication that the person with dementia may need, as well as anything which may bring them comfort or a sense of familiarity, such as headphones with music or audio books to drown out excessive noise, a photo album or a favourite blanket.

How can I support the person during the journey?

If you are unsure if the person would be able to tolerate a long journey, a short-haul break or a holiday in the UK may suit them better.

If you are travelling by car, make sure you factor in plenty of rest stops and breaks.

If you are travelling by ferry, you could request priority boarding and seats in a quieter club lounge, but there may be a small charge for these services.

Most airports and train companies offer assistance for people with disabilities like dementia. It can help if you contact them in advance so they can provide appropriate support, such as priority boarding and help with getting on and off transport. Many also provide quiet areas and lanyards for people with disabilities to let staff know that extra support may be needed.

When should I not go on holiday?

Families are often best placed to know whether going on holiday with the person with dementia is a good idea. Some signs that it might be too challenging include confusion and disorientation in unfamiliar settings; difficulties with continence; or anxiety and disconnection in crowded places.

If you are unsure, you can speak to your GP for advice or contact our Helpline: our specialist dementia nurses can guide you through the options and give suggestions on holiday planning that are tailored to the person’s needs.

Any other things to consider?

If you are travelling outside the UK, make sure you have travel insurance and take the documentation with you in case of a medical emergency. If you are holidaying in Europe you should order a GHIC card which entitles you to necessary healthcare in most European countries. Prior to going on holiday, find out where the local doctors’ surgeries and hospitals are.

Take extra care carrying money as theft is rife in some tourist areas. It is advisable to only take small amounts out with you – especially if the person with dementia will be carrying it – and leave the rest in a safe or other secure place in your accommodation.

If you are concerned that the person with dementia may get lost while travelling or on holiday, they could wear or carry a tracking device (eg a wristband or GPS-enabled watch, or a tag attached to their clothing).

If you’re thinking of booking your next holiday, make every purchase count by using the Shop and Raise app to effortlessly raise funds Dementia UK. Whether you’re reserving accommodation, buying travel essentials or arranging airport parking, each transaction transforms into free donations for Dementia UK. Download the Shop and Raise app now from the App store or Google Play and your holiday shopping will support families facing dementia.