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A Nurse's Guide for Taking Elderly Parents on Vacation

By: Clare Absher RN, BSN

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Are you going on a family vacation and planning to bring along one or both of your parents? Are you looking forward to enjoying some carefree quality time together as a family? Maybe it's a family reunion where multi-generations, including the grandchildren, are getting together. Regardless of your intentions, planning ahead is necessary to ensure a successful trip when bringing elderly parents along. When one or both parents require some type of daily living assistance, taking a vacation together requires some unique foresight. Taking them out of their familiar, safe, and comfortable living environment, presents additional concerns and needs. As a nurse care manager, I have assisted many families to include their elderly parents on vacation and have a wonderful experience. I will share a little of my insight that may help you also enjoy a deserving family vacation together.

1. Determine how you will travel and make special arrangements.

Besides the usual arrangements that go in to planning any trip, you need to consider some additional factors. When setting up a travel itinerary, if air travel is necessary, try to make every effort to set up a direct flight for your folks. Also be sure to notify the airline in advance if special arrangements are needed such as a wheelchair and/or escort. When traveling by car, plan to allow for a few extra rest stops and have drinks, snacks, medications and other supplies readily accessible.

2. Bring all medications and label them.

I need to stress the importance of bringing all their medications, and making sure they are labeled with current dosages and times. Frequently I have seen older folks arrive loaded down with bags of outdated medication bottles that creates the need for time-consuming long distance verification with physicians. Should medications be forgotten, contact their physician immediately upon your destination arrival to request prescriptions be called in to a local pharmacy in order to avoid unsafe dosage lapses.

3. Research local suppliers to rent medical equipment.

Most heavy and bulky durable equipment such as wheelchairs, lifts, transfer/tub seats, and backup oxygen tanks can be rented at local suppliers when space is limited. Bring along whatever you can of course, however often times traveling lighter is preferable. Save yourself valuable time by searching on-line for these medical companies whenever possible.

3. Plan ahead to book handicap access.

Your accommodations might require handicap access, and although growing in popularity, are still limited. You can book such accommodations at most hotels, however if you prefer to stay in a rental home or cottage you must call a travel agent or contact a rental company yourself well in advance. In some popular resorts, it's not unusual to book a handicap accessible home 6-9 months in advance. Keep in mind that stairs are usually the biggest concern for older persons to negotiate along with their requirements for widened doorways, and large bathrooms with safety rails for easy walker/wheelchair access.

4. Determine the level of care your eldery parent(s) will need.

How much help they are accustomed to having at home or in assisted living will determine the type of arrangements for care during your vacation. Simply put, arrange for at least the same amount of care they already have and whenever possible get extra help on vacation. Remember, this is a vacation for everyone to enjoy and not the time to take on additional responsibility. I have witnessed many families with the best intentions end up bitterly disappointed and resentful towards one another after a week of sharing what turns out to be an exhausting vacation together.

5. Set up home care assistance during your tip.

If you are fortunate enough to have a private caregiver available and the space to accommodate them, by all means BRING THEM. Many families however do not have this luxury and need to arrange care with a local home care agency. Search our Home Care directory for home care agency listings and contact information in your desired location. This is usually not too difficult, but again, call in advance by a month or two to set up this care. In most cases, a home care assistant or nurses aide will attend to your parent's personal care needs such as bathing, dressing, and personal hygiene. However for special treatments, dressing changes, injections, glucose monitoring, ostomy changes, catheterizations or other skilled care, request that scheduled nursing visits be made by an RN or LPN. Nursing visits to monitor an older relative's unstable health status when he or she is at risk for pending medical problems is also a good idea to consider while away. I found the process of setting up home care assistance is hastened by having families fax or mail medical records, physician orders, current care plans and signed consent/insurance forms in advance to the home care agency. Getting some or most of the preliminary paperwork out of the way also reduces demands on your precious vacation time.

6. Ask the local home care agency for referrals.

When working with a home care agency, take advantage of their staff's knowledge of other resources needed such as reliable home equipment/supply companies, pharmacies, and nearby medical facilities. They cannot only provide referrals, but are frequently willing to make some of the arrangements for you when doing business with them. You might also ask about activities for elderly parents, sites to see, restaurants to eat at, and fun places for the kids to visit. Tap into the expertise that the local staff can offer for health care resources as well as area recreational highlights.

7. Consider hiring a professional care manager.

Lastly, if you find that time restraints and a busy schedule are a problem, then consider hiring a geriatric care manager to help you make travel arrangements for your older loved ones. Let them make the tedious calls, do the extensive legwork, and basically be available to assist you along the way or even during your stay. This will add some to your trip's overall expenses (fees range from $40-$100/hr) but is money well spent to reduce burdens and alleviate the stress involved with vacation planning. Limited vacation time for working families as well as limited vacation budgets is all the more reason to plan ahead and seek help from a professional care manager to make the most of your vacation.