Dementia describes a set of symptoms that over time can affect a person’s memory, problem-solving, language and behaviour, and the cruel syndrome is sadly irreversible.
But could dementia-friendly holidays be the answer to helping sufferers get somewhat back to who they were before? Some experts think so.
A dementia-friendly holiday may mean a trip that has been thoroughly planned out by a loved one at a familiar place with familiar people. Alternatively, it could be arranged and supported by dementia experts and there are some companies set up that offer these.
A trip away could have a very positive impact on someone with dementia. Holidays could offer stimulation through experience and encourage sufferers to reminisce.
Alzheimer’s Society said of someone with dementia: ”If they used to go to the seaside, the sights, sounds and smells of the beach could bring back happy memories – this could include the smell of sun cream, the sound of waves crashing or the taste of a particular food.”
Dementia-friendly holidays could change the way we navigate the syndrome
Visiting family and friends could have a similar effect. Taking someone to a place where their first language is spoken could benefit them.
However, if you’re looking to take a trip with someone who has dementia, there are some important things to consider. The length of your stay, destination, type of transport you use, itinerary and budget are all factors. More information is available at Alzheimer’s Society.
With so many things to take into account, going on holiday with someone who has dementia can be daunting. Consequently, carers may be reluctant to take the plunge due to the unpredictable nature of their loved one’s condition.
But according to travel and health experts, holidays can be enjoyable for both those living with dementia and the people who care for them. Travelling may even have cognitive benefits for those suffering.
Pharmacist Abbas Kanani suggested that a holiday can be memory-jogging for someone with dementia if executed correctly.
Abbas exclusively told GB News: “Revisiting familiar places may be beneficial for someone with dementia. The trip should be well planned and considerations should be made about how the person’s dementia affects their daily life.
”Generally, a person with dementia can recall things from many years ago rather than recent memories. Reminiscence therapy involves discussing events and experiences from the past and aims to trigger memories. It is a good way of reflecting on events from someone’s past and is usually a positive and rewarding activity.”
However, it’s important to note that “a holiday could cause confusion for someone with dementia because of the change in routine and unfamiliar settings”. The person travelling with them needs to be aware of what kind of holiday is right for them, and if the holiday is well planned it can be a “positive experience”.
The pharmacist advised: “Discussing their needs and wants is important and having extra support for coping with a new environment or changes to their usual routine should be considered.”
Travel expert David Doughty agreed that a holiday for someone with dementia could have its benefits.
He told GB News: “Returning to a childhood holiday spot could potentially evoke nostalgic memories and positive emotions depending on the stage of dementia. But it could also be confusing or upsetting if the place has changed significantly.
”Travel does not reverse or cure dementia but the changes of scenery, bonding with family, reminiscing over photo albums, sensory stimulation and physical activity involved in vacations could potentially have some cognitive benefits.”
He added: “Holidays can potentially benefit someone with dementia by providing mental stimulation. New environments, experiences, sights and sounds can help exercise the brain and enhance cognition and this includes activities like museums or guided tours.
”Holidays also often involve quality time with loved ones, social interactions, recreation and opportunities to engage in hobbies and interests. This can boost mood and reduce depression. Travel can often include walking, swimming and hiking. This can aid mobility and physical health and the change from daily routines to getting outdoors can be relaxing and lower anxiety and distress.”
But despite its potential benefits, holidaying with someone who has dementia is rarely a relaxed, spontaneous affair. Rather, it will have to be planned meticulously.
Travel expert Scott Poniewaz offered some advice for carers opting to take a trip with their loved one who has dementia.
He told GB News: “For loved ones planning on taking someone with dementia on a holiday, I would recommend doing your research beforehand about dementia-friendly places or guided tours.
”Book accessible transportation and accommodations and request amenities like roll-in showers, grab bars and wheelchair access if needed.
”Ensure you pack all the medications, assistive devices, comfort items and have emergency protocols in place and keep copies of medical documents.
”Maintain a predictable routine as much as possible for meals, sleep times, medication, etc. Create a simple daily schedule and limit unnecessary decision-making for the person. Give simple choices and have patience in responding to repetitive questions or concerns. It is also important to build in a lot of downtime, rest breaks and free time in the itinerary. Don’t pack too many activities in and go at their pace.”
If you decide to take your loved one on a trip, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone, and can seek out support from airport and hotel staff. David Doughty urged carers to consider a few more things. He said: “The person suffering from dementia may have trouble remembering details of the trip, following directions or adjusting to changes in routine and this can cause anxiety.
”Disorientation in unfamiliar environments is also common with dementia and new places and crowds may be overwhelming and the person may get lost or wander off easily.
”Certain activities associated with holidays like sightseeing, museum visits or guided tours may need adjustment for a person with dementia who has a shorter attention span or gets overwhelmed easily.
“Social interactions during group travel may also be tiring and stressful for someone with dementia but one-on-one interactions with loved ones can be meaningful.”
Travelling with someone who has dementia can be difficult and if you don’t feel able to go it alone, there is help available.
‘Travel does not reverse or cure dementia but the changes of scene, bonding with family, reminiscing over photo albums, sensory stimulation and physical activity could potentially have cognitive benefits’
Dementia Adventure is one UK organisation that uses travel to enhance the physical, emotional and social well-being of people suffering from dementia, and create an enjoyable holiday for both sufferers and their companion or carer.
Life after diagnosis can already feel like an isolating experience, and the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns made this worse. According to a survey by Alzheimer’s Society, 45 per cent of respondents said that lockdown had a “negative impact” on their mental health.
Dementia Adventure provides a variety of pathways so that people with dementia – and those around them – can still enjoy a trip.
Group holidays promise “five days of fun and relaxation, with other people who are living through similar experiences to you”, while tailored holidays are planned “specific to your requirements, abilities, and preferred destination”.
With the help of an Adventure Leader and a team of supporters, dementia patients can experience benefits including improved verbal expression, memory, and attention, better moods and reduced stress, improved sleeping and eating patterns, increased feelings of positivity and ability to cope.
A holiday companion can also come away with a greater understanding of how they can support someone with dementia, as well as an enriched relationship with their loved one.
While a holiday of course cannot cure dementia, the benefits of dementia-friendly travel appear to be plenty.
If planned and executed correctly, with the right people and tools handy, a dementia-friendly holiday could help those suffering see a major improvement in their mental health, confidence and even cognitive function, plus relationships with their loved ones.