Holidays and dementia – things to consider

There are important things to consider when planning a holiday with or for a person with dementia, to make it relaxing and fun for everyone.

Travelling during coronavirus

Current national and local coronavirus restrictions may affect your holiday planning, including:

  • where and when you can go
  • the cost
  • the paperwork you need
  • how you travel (for example, if social distancing needs to be maintained).

You may also need to show proof of your vaccination status, or quarantine for a period of time on arrival in another country or when you return to the UK. Details such as the length and location of this isolation period will vary depending on circumstances.

If these limits apply, you will need to take them into account when planning a holiday. Consider how the person with dementia will feel about the restrictions. They may affect whether you and the person with dementia can or want to travel.

The government website provides regular updates on coronavirus and on travel within the UK and abroad. Check this information in good time as part of your holiday planning. Your holiday or travel provider may also be able to help.

Benefits of a person with dementia going on holiday

A well-planned holiday can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the person with dementia and those around them.

Some of the benefits of going on holiday are included here. Click on the + symbols to read more.

Stimulation through new experiences

A holiday offers the chance to have new and stimulating experiences. These could include talking to different people, going to new places or doing different types of activities. This can build the confidence of a person with dementia and help them feel able to try things that they wouldn’t usually do.

There are ways to try new experiences while keeping some of the familiarity of the person’s usual routine. This is very important for people living with dementia.

Creating shared experiences

Holidays can also create new shared experiences for the person and those around them. Some carers find that their relationship with the person they care for gets better after some time away together.

Reminiscing about past experiences

As well as enabling people to try new things, a holiday offers the chance to revisit familiar places. This can be beneficial for a person living with dementia as it can allow them to reminisce about past holidays or places they used to live.

For example, 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.

Reconnecting to important aspects of identity

Visiting family and friends, or spending time in a country or place can be important to the person’s cultural identity. This can also support a person with dementia to reminisce. 

For example, if the person grew up speaking a different first language, they might benefit from visiting a place where that language is spoken.

Engaging in mindful activities

Many holidays include some time spent in nature, which can help to improve mood in people affected by dementia. Spending time outside can also increase a person’s sense of wellness. The sensory experience of being in nature allows people to feel more present and connected to the world around them. This can be beneficial for people affected by dementia.

Factors to consider when planning a holiday

How you plan your holiday will depend on your interests, personal preferences and budget.

When planning a trip for a person living with dementia, you should also consider how the person’s dementia affects their daily life. This will help you to decide on the right type of holiday for you and for the person you care for. 

Some things to consider are listed here. Click on the + symbols to read more.

Length of stay

Shorter trips may be better for some people living with dementia. If they have memory problems or find it hard to concentrate, longer trips can be tiring and harder to appreciate.

Day trips can be a nice way of getting away from home without having to stay the night somewhere unfamiliar.

Destination

Some people with dementia may prefer a more familiar destination. It could be nice to visit somewhere they have been before that brings back happy memories and is less overwhelming for them.

It could also be a nice way for you to connect with the person through an experience that has been important to them in the past.

Type of transport

How you travel is likely to depend on what is most practical and affordable. It’s sometimes possible to make the journey an enjoyable part of the trip. For example, if you are travelling by car you could stop off at interesting places on the way to break up the journey.

Or you could travel in a form of transport that feels more unusual and exciting – for example, travelling by ship could be interesting if the person is not used to it. 

Things to do

Think about what type of activities the person enjoys or used to enjoy. You may be able to shape the holiday around these.

For example, if the person has always enjoyed camping you could consider a holiday in a cabin or yurt. This would give you access to useful facilities, while having the benefits of nature nearby.

Budget

The cost of a holiday is likely to be an important consideration when you’re planning a holiday. There are ways to reduce the cost of travel and get financial support for holidays.

Thinking about the person's individual needs

Deciding to book a trip away can be a big step. It can be difficult to know if someone with dementia will benefit from a holiday or struggle to settle into their new surroundings.

For some people with dementia, going on holiday can be confusing. They may need extra support when coping with a new environment or changes to their usual routine. 

To help you work out if the person with dementia would benefit from a holiday, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Some people find travelling and holidays quite stressful. Has the person enjoyed going on holiday previously?
  • How does the person usually manage in new surroundings? Would they become confused and distressed with the change in location, food, language or clothing?
  • Travelling can sometimes involve big changes in environment. How do you think the person would respond to a change in temperature or time zone? For example, the person may need to dress differently to adapt to a place’s weather or culture.
  • Getting to and from places can involve long journeys or several types of transport. Would the person be physically comfortable during the journey? Will they need help to get on and off whatever transport is used?
  • If the journey involves passing through security checks (for example, in an airport), would the person understand the need to remove personal items, like jewellery or a turban?
  • How will the person move around where they are staying? If they have mobility issues, is the accommodation on the ground floor, or are there accessible lifts? Is the surrounding area accessible?
  • If the person needs extra support with going to the toilet, or if they have incontinence, will it be possible to manage this during the journey and  on holiday?
  • If being able to practise a religion is important to the person, are there opportunities to do that while they are away?

Thinking about your needs

You may also find it hard to relax while providing support to a person with dementia on holiday.

It's important to think about yourself as well as the person you care for when making holiday plans. Supporting a person away from home can present more challenges. For example:

  • Will you be able to contact your usual support network if you need advice or help while you are on holiday?
  • If you are unwell while on holiday, will someone else be able to support the person?

Make sure to build in time to rest while you’re away or once you get home. This can help to make the holiday enjoyable and restful for you both.

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Discussions about Travel and holidays in our online community, Talking Point...
Discussions about Travel and holidays...

Involving the person in the planning

When deciding whether or not to take some time away, it’s important to think about what kind of holiday is right for everyone. Talk to the person you’re caring for about whether they would like to go on holiday and involve them in the planning as much as possible.

A person with dementia may not be able to make this decision for themselves. This is known as lacking the ‘mental capacity’ to make that decision. If this is the case, you should consider whether going on holiday is in their best interests. 

If you're not able to travel

For some people with dementia a holiday may not be a good idea for a range of reasons. The thought of being away from a familiar setting or routine may make them anxious because of mobility or other needs. A person with dementia may also find the changes too confusing, or they may just not want to go away.

Try not to feel guilty if it isn’t possible to arrange a trip away from home. There are still ways to enjoy some of the benefits of a holiday without travelling. Some ideas are included here.

Ideas for bringing the holiday to the person

It may not be possible to travel. If this is the case, you may still be able to bring the benefits of a holiday to the person.

  • Look for ways to have new experiences closer to home. For example, you could check if anywhere local offers some of the activities that you might have tried on holiday, like a dancing class. It may be possible to go on a day trip to somewhere nearby, instead of going on holiday.
  • See if a particular food that the person associates with a holiday is available to order or buy. For example, if the person used to go on holiday to a particular country, check if there are nearby places that offer food from that region.
  • Some tourist websites (such as museums) offer virtual ‘armchair’ sessions, where you can explore what they have to offer without leaving home.
  • If a holiday would have helped the person to connect with their culture, it’s worth checking whether there are any culturally-specific groups or events held near you that the person could attend. 

There are also ways you can bring the culture to the person. For example, you could:

  • ask family members to visit or set up video calls for them to spend time together that way
  • look at books and photographs with the person
  • share food that is important to their culture
  • listen to or play music that the person can relate to.
Respite care

If you need a break from your caring role, you could look into respite care for the person you care for. This will be different depending on whether you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland

Find out more
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