This week’s Good News story focuses on a commercial venture that offers a highly-discounted Caribbean cruise for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. (This is not a commercial for the cruise, rather, it’s a celebration of efforts to lighten the load of those on the dementia path that currently is approaching more than 50 million worldwide.) If you have ever traveled with someone with cognitive impairment, you know first-hand how difficult it can be to keep that someone engaged in activities that meet the impaired person’s needs. I am familiar with family members who have lost their loved one in an airport because of the unpredictability of a person’s behavior. Several years ago I flew in an airplane from Washington’s Dulles International airport to Seattle, seated two rows behind a woman who, quite frankly, should not have been traveling by herself, a person who could not sit still in her airplane seat, roaming down the middle aisle in an attempt to leave the airplane. As stressful as that was for the passengers, that stress doesn’t come close to the anxiety and stress experienced by the traveler who had no understanding of where she was, and no understanding of why she couldn’t simply leave the confines of the tubular travel vehicle. Alzheimer’s “exit-seeking behavior” at 35,000 feet is my October 2012 post that describes this harrowing experience.
But here’s the good news, the above Caribbean cruise – scheduled for April 2019 – is geared to the needs of both the person with dementia and her or his friendly caregiver. The staff and crew are trained to provide an optimal experience for one and all. Times of respite will be offered for the weary caregiver and adult day activities will be offered in abundance for the passenger with early-stage Alzheimer’s or similar dementia.
Now, if that isn’t good news, I don’t know what is.
Read the above article if you’re not convinced that traveling with a loved one who has dementia can be challenging. Or read it if you too have experienced this particular type of stress because you have already ventured into the travel hell that this Blogger describes. I make that statement with no disrespect intended. It doesn’t matter how much you love your co-traveler, it doesn’t matter how wonderful your destination – getting there is not without its mishaps and aggravations for both the caregiver, and the cognitively impaired traveler.
Then there is the other side of the coin: imagine that you are a person with mid-stage Alzheimer’s or other dementia who is not accustomed to staying put – you actually wander constantly when you’re on the ground – and you’ve been put on an airplane by yourself and you have no concept of what is taking place. You don’t have the capacity to understand that this metal tube in which you are sitting is a confined space and trying to “get home” is not an option. If you can’t imagine that scenario read the attached article, Alzheimer’s “exit-seeking” behavior at 35,000 feet, an article I wrote shortly after returning from Bar Harbor, Maine in October 2012.
At a certain stage during the course of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, a person can exhibit exit-seeking behavior. It is believed that the person exhibiting this behavior is actually trying to get home, or back to a familiar place, or even seeking a feeling of comfort rather than simply trying to escape from their current location.
This “exiting” can take place just about anywhere, even at the person’s own home – resulting in a dangerous scenario where a wandering vulnerable person could easily fall into any number of horrific situations because of their inability to get back to the safety of their home (be it a personal residence or a long-term care facility.) Exiting behavior also takes place in public places such as grocery stores or shopping malls, movie theaters, airports, and yes, even airplanes at 35,000 feet above the ground. This latter scenario happened on a recent flight I took from Dulles International Airport (DC area) to Seattle International Airport (Seattle, Washington.)
Just a half hour into our five-plus hour flight, a female passenger of approximately 75 years of age became very agitated during our ascent and before the fasten seat belt sign was switched off, she climbed over the passengers in her row, carry-on in hand, screaming all the way to the back of the plane from Row 34. I was seated in Row 35. “Wow, she must really have to use the bathroom!” I thought. A flight attendant tried to get the passenger re-situated in her seat to no avail. Complicating matters was the fact that the passenger was from another geographical continent and not only did she not speak or understand English, it was determined that other passengers who had flown with her from that same continent (not any relation or connection to her) also could not understand a word that she said. In essence, she was speaking gibberish. That was the first sign to myself and the flight attendants, that a) this woman was flying alone; b) she was in severe distress; and c) she most likely had some sort of dementia and was trying to exit her environment. Not an easy task, nor one any of the United Airline employees were about to allow. Read the rest of this entry »