Simplify trips with older loved ones
By Lisa M. Petsche
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If you are planning to take an older relative on a road trip of several hours or more, thorough preparation is the key to success, especially if the person has special healthcare needs.
Follow these tips for a safe and enjoyable stay.
- Set realistic expectations. Consider your loved one’s needs and limitations.
- Make plans and start necessary preparations well in advance. Make lists.
- Include your loved one in the preparations to the best of his or her ability.
- Research the accessibility of accommodations and attractions you wish to visit. If you’re planning to stay at a motel or hotel, make reservations, especially if you’ll need specific features such as a room with handicapped facilities or a ground-floor room.
- Learn the location of the nearest hospital in any areas you plan to visit. Avoid destinations where a hospital is far away.
- Arrange for your loved one to visit the doctor pre-trip. Share your travel plans and any health-related concerns, such as motion sickness or circulation problems.
- If your loved one has trouble walking long distances, rent a wheelchair or ensure that the places you plan to visit have some available.
- Have your car checked and serviced before departure.
- If you’re going to an unfamiliar area, obtain a road map and study it. If you belong to an automobile club, take advantage of its route-planning service.
- Plan to do as much driving as possible during off-peak traffic times. Or choose the scenic route if time and your loved one’s sitting tolerance permit.
Include the following items when drawing up a packing list:
- Loose-fitting, breathable clothing, comfortable walking shoes, a wide-brimmed hat, and a cardigan for air-conditioned environments and cool evenings
- Sufficient prescription and over-the-counter medications to cover the time you plan to be away, plus a few extra days’ worth in case your return is delayed
- Sunscreen, insect repellent, antihistamine and motion sickness tablets
- A list of all health conditions and medications, in case of a medical emergency
- Any necessary medical equipment and supplies, such as a walking aid, food supplements, incontinence pads or diabetic supplies
- A cushion or two for comfortable positioning in the car
- An extra pair of eyeglasses and spare hearing aid batteries
- Sunglasses and umbrellas (the latter primarily for instant shade)
- A pillow and a nightlight
- Snacks and a cooler containing sandwiches and beverages
- Favorite music or books on tape for the car ride
- Emergency roadside and first aid kits
- Cell phone (Don’t forget to charge it and bring a recharging unit along)
- Disabled parking permit
- Top up the gas tank at frequent intervals.
- Stop approximately once per hour for stretch breaks or short walks.
- Choose stops that have clean, well-lit restrooms.
- Wear seatbelts and, if your loved one is in the front seat, ensure that the headrest is centered at the back of his/her head.
- Encourage your loved one to shift his/her weight often and to do neck and shoulder stretches and foot flexes.
- When checking in, ask for a room close to the lobby or elevator. A ground-floor room is ideal in case of an emergency in which elevators become inoperable.
- If your loved one has a back problem, request a room with a recently replaced mattress.
- Space out activities and allow ample time for each.
- Schedule outings for the time of day when your loved one’s energy level is highest. Stick to regular meal, medication and sleep times.
- Have a flexible itinerary. Take things one day - and one activity - at a time.
- Ensure plenty of time for rest and relaxation!
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.