For Val Grubb, one of the greatest joys to come from more than 20 years of traveling around the world with her mother, now 85, has been the chance to rediscover her parent on those trips.
“I found out my mother was kicked out of high school for roughhousing," says Grubb, author of Planes, Canes and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parent through Travel. “I never knew that until we went on vacation."
Those bonding trips are still going on, even though Grubb's mother has reached the early stages of dementia and is using a wheelchair.
While traveling with an aging parent who has either mental or physical limitations—or both—is challenging, there are steps you can take to make it easier.
If you're buying plane, train, bus or cruise tickets, make arrangements with customer service for any special assistance required. You can find out a lot about what's available on transportation companies' websites.
The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality has links to airline website pages for travelers with disabilities. Amtrak also has instructions on its website for passengers needing assistance, and it offers a 15 percent discount on rail fair to adult passengers with a disability and up to one traveling companion. Greyhound has information on topics ranging from boarding assistance to traveling with a mobility device and service animals. Cruise lines provide similar information about their services and policies for disabled passengers.
If you're driving to your destination, plan on making rest stops at least every two hours, Grubb advises. That will allow frequent bathroom breaks for a passenger who might be dealing with incontinence. Getting out of the car to move around a bit also helps avoid the risk of deep-vein thrombosis due to sitting for long periods.
Air passengers carrying on mobility aids, medical devices and medicine should be prepared for how those items will be handled during security screenings. Check out the Transportation Security Administration's website for details, and be sure to allow for extra processing time.
The TSA recommends that all medications be clearly labeled. Medically necessary liquids and creams are exempt from the general rule limiting carry-on liquids to 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters.
Hiring a travel companion
If you or another family member or friend can't accompany your parent on the trip, consider hiring a professional travel companion. You can enlist a variety of services, from airport drop offs and pickups to personal assistants and nurse escorts who go along for the entire trip.
Bill Merriman, regional director for SYNERGY Home Care, recently arranged for two caregivers to escort a Bellevue, Washington-based client's 96-year old, wheelchair-bound mother to the airport for a solo trip to Mesa, Arizona. They obtained preclearance to accompany the woman into the security and gate areas normally reserved for ticketed passengers, Merriman said. They also helped her with toileting before she boarded the plane.
When she arrived, another pair of caregivers from the company's Phoenix office was there to get her safely to her new home with her other son in Mesa.
An expression of love
Grubb, who operates a blog called Travel with Aging Parents, says that after logging more than 300,000 miles together, she wouldn't dream of taking a vacation without her travel buddy. She views the extra effort required to make those trips now that her mother's health is declining as an expression of love.
“You just have to understand that it is going to be more challenging, but it's going to be worth it," she says.