Traveling with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Part 2: Making the Trip
For the Person with Memory Loss
Orient Yourself to the Plan.
Getting out of your usual routine can be difficult with memory loss. This can be particularly true when travelling. Keep a calendar of the travel itinerary with you, in your pocket or purse if you can, and refer to it as you need to. Memory loss or not, most of us could benefit from a calendar when the trip itinerary is busy. Of course, some trips are itinerary heavy with sightseeing and traveling between towns, hot-spots, or ports of call, and others are not. With memory loss, you should keep this calendar even if there is not much planned to do. Simply writing in the dates when you arrive and leave is worthwhile, and reduces your need to ask those around you for reminders. A sample entry may look like:
Orient Yourself to the People.
Sometimes what people worry most about on a trip to visit friends and family is difficulty remembering names or who people are. Have a discussion about who is likely to be there before you go and, you guessed it, make yourself a list! Think of it as a cheat sheet you can use if you need to pull up a name. For example, you may know who all your grandkids are, but you don’t want to forget their names! So, write all their names on a piece of paper and keep it handy to help keep those names fresh in your mind. For more tips on social situations, see our post entitled, “Coping with Memory Loss in Social Situations.”
For the Partner
Don’t Overload the Schedule.
Maybe you used to head to a travel destination with 5 items on your itinerary of things to do and see that day: Eiffel tower in the morning, visit a perfume factory and eat lunch at a Parisian bistro, then spend the afternoon exploring the Louvre before jumping back on the tour bus to Versailles. Ask yourself if that is reasonable now. Lighten the itinerary, or take more days at a destination to see it all. Also consider scheduling the most important sites to you both at your partner’s best time of the day (often the morning). Finally, schedule down time back at the hotel or an opening for an afternoon nap at the family’s house.
You have spent a lot of time coming up with the plans, particularly if it is a site seeing vacation. But, plans can be, and sometimes need to be, changed. Mentally prepare yourself that you may have to give up a certain plan one day if it is a bad day for you or your partner. In the larger scheme of the trip, you will likely have a better time if you are both relaxed and not at each other’s throats, than if you made it to the top of the Sears Tower that particular afternoon.
Remembering where to go when or having a good sense of direction for how to get back somewhere can be challenges when someone has memory loss. The last thing you want to do is get unexpectedly separated on vacation. Go find the coffee shop or restrooms together. Don’t plan to “meet me back here at 1,” do it together.
On the other hand, if you are visiting family or friends, consider scheduling some time to be separate. While your loved one has activities with someone else, you can have some “me” time.
Record Those Memories.
Consider making notes or keeping a “diary” or “travel log.” Encourage your partner to do the same, or, even better, do it together. This may help with later recall of events and give you both a place to go back to and enjoy these “memories” again. It can also help with those questions about “what did you do on your trip?” that you’ll encounter when you get back. Go a step further and make a small photo album with captions upon your return.
Memory loss does not have to mean the end of meaningful, fun, traveling experiences. You’ve been dreaming and hoping of this time in your lives to do just that. With a little extra planning and flexibility, you can!
Tell us some of your travel stories and tips!