Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

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Tue, Nov 28, 2017 9:50am

Traveling with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Part 1: Getting Ready

By Dr. Melanie Chandler, HABIT FL Director, @drmelaniechandler

Suitcases and Airplane

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are booking tickets, packing bags and traveling to visit friends and family, or just for fun.  Planning a trip can be stressful for anyone, but particularly when memory loss or problem solving difficulty enter the picture.

Planning the Trip

For the Person with MCI

Maybe you are traveling to visit loved ones, or maybe you are taking that dream trip. MCI does not have to stop you from traveling.

Engage in the Plans.

Where do you want to go?  What do you want to do?  Share your opinions about these things.  Sometimes when people experience memory or cognitive loss, they may want to withdraw or stick to what is safe and familiar. Challenge yourself to break free of that pull to just stay home.  And, if you are also a part of the planning, you are more likely to be interested in the trip than if you just leave it all to your partner.

It’s OK to Ask for Help.

At the same time, it is OK to leave some of the detail to your partner if you find it stressful.  You can help make the decision about spending New Year’s with friends in Charleston, but leave researching the best prices on airline tickets and coordinating the shuttle bus to your partner.

If you don’t have a partner, that does not have to stop you.  Write things down.  Break the big task of planning a trip into multiple steps, write those steps down, and attack them one at a time. We’ll do an example of this sort of list making when we talk about packing in a minute.  Write down as many details as you can think of.  Check them off as you go so that you can remember what you’ve already done, and take lots of notes.  If you find this overwhelming, ask for help!  Maybe your friend could help with the details, or you could ask one of your adult kids to buy the tickets online.  Or, use a travel agent.

For the Partner

You may find that your roles in approaching a trip have changed.  Maybe your partner does not seem as interested in a vacation, when they always loved it before.  Maybe they seem stressed about the idea of leaving home or planning for the trip.  Maybe they were always the planner, but now they are struggling to put it all together.  Changing roles are common when partners are trying to negotiate memory loss.

Don’t Assume.

Just because they always did things a certain way in the past, it does not mean that they will or can do things that way now that memory or cognitive loss is present.  Keep open communication.  If your loved one was supposed to accomplish a task, check in, in a nice way, to see how it is going.

Step Up to the Challenge.

You may have to do things you never did before.  This may be true in traveling and in other aspects of your lives.  You may need to learn how to buy plane tickets, convert currency, or make sure your cell phones will work at your destination.  Overcoming your own insecurities or comfort zone to do these new things can take courage.

Packing the Bags and Going

For the Person with MCI

Make a List.

Just like in planning the trip, break down packing and all those last minute tasks into multiple, smaller steps.  This may look something like:

  1. Make or print a packing list (see examples here)
  2. Review the packing list for any items you may need but do not have
  3. Buy any missing items at the store or pharmacy
  4. Buy gifts for the grandkids
  5. Get the suitcases from the attic
  6. Pack with the list
  7. Leave the key with your neighbor for feeding the cat
  8. Set the thermostat on the house down.
Don’t Try to Do it All at Once.

Nobody would want to try to do all of these tasks the day before they leave.  Assign yourself these tasks over the weeks leading up to the trip.  Write them down on specific days on the calendar.  Maybe you print the packing list 2 weeks before the trip and find what items you are missing.  You then go shopping for the gifts and missing items the week before.  Ask your son to come over and get the suitcases down the weekend before the trip.  Give yourself a couple of days to pack. Schedule to leave the key the night before you leave, and turn the thermostat down the day you go.  While you may have done these things in the past without having to give separate attention to all these steps, planning these steps in more detail now may help.

Check it Off.

As you go through your list, check off what you have done.  It will help remind you where you left off, and what you still need to do.

For the Partner

Allow More Time.

Encourage your loved one to break down and accomplish the steps of getting ready over a longer period of time.  If they have difficulty or ask for help in making a prep list, help them organize it and think of all of the steps necessary.  Do not expect them to pack the night before as they always did in the past.  No one wants the added anxiety of finding there isn’t enough medications for the trip or running late for the flight because packing isn’t complete.

Consider Doing the Task Together.

Most people, not just those with MCI, can usually benefit from extra organization when preparing for a trip.  If you do it together, you can be there to offer help when needed.  Your loved one also gets cues about what to do next by watching you rather than you having to tell them.

Help when Needed.

You should also allow them to do as much as they can for themselves.  Many of us may have a tendency to “help” by just taking over the task.  Unless this is really necessary, you doing it all may just end with you both being frustrated.  It is a fine line to walk to know when help is needed and when to pull back.

Be Patient.

You may get impatient, upset, scared, or angry when you realize that your partner with MCI cannot do things as quickly or efficiently as they once did.  That is normal.  Remind yourself that they did not choose to have memory loss and are not just “being difficult.”  Take breaks and allow yourself more time through this process as well.

What tips can you share for getting ready for a trip with memory loss?

Thank you. Very timely and helpful.

Excellent information! Lists are always helpful.

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