Memory loss and dementia: out and about
Living with memory loss can have an emotional, social, psychological and practical impact. Often, as mental abilities decline, a person can feel a degree of vulnerability, lack a sense of purpose or question self-worth. Carers, family and friends need to do everything they can to help the person realise their potential, build on self-esteem and retain their sense of identity and dignity.
Travel and adventure
In the earlier stages of dementia, individuals may still enjoy travel. So to start us off, we have compiled a list of useful resources to help keep travel fun.
Dementia Adventure offers outings and short breaks. Specialising in trips for people with dementia, their partners, family/friends and carers, Dementia Adventure organises weeks away to the Isle Of Wight, Devon, Suffolk and the Lake District or shorter day trips for sailing or walking. All travel, tickets, accommodation and itineraries are pre-arranged. Also, you will receive support during your trip with a Dementia Adventure team member who can provide as much or as little help throughout your stay to make sure everything runs smoothly.
An alternative, check out Revitalise, a national charity that provides respite care in a holiday setting. With three accessible holiday centres in Chigwell, Southampton and Southport, and a wide range of activities from fitness, museums, theatre and art, Revitalise gives you the chance to meet new people and relax in a fully accessible setting.
If you would rather organise your holiday independently, check out the Alzheimer’s Society's Travelling and going on holiday fact sheet for some advice about planning a holiday for people living with dementia. Giving an overview of the various transport options, sources of financial assistance and travel insurance, this is an absolute must read.
Here are some key points to consider before booking a trip.
Are you visiting friends or relatives? If you are going to stay with them, consider discussing your situation so all involved are clear and aware of the condition. In doing this, each person can provide extra help where needed and jobs can be carefully carved out to ensure a smooth and organised stay.
Are you staying in a hotel or b&b? Try to find accommodation that looks user-friendly and welcoming. Ideally, it is preferable to pick a place with fewer corridors to avoid confusion. Be sure to tell staff about your position, so they are on board in case any difficulties occur.
Are you considering a package holiday? If you prefer to use package holiday bookings, make sure you share all relevant details with the travel agency and holiday company prior to booking to ensure all needs are met.
What type of holiday are you planning? Check out the location of your destination, making sure there are interesting places to see and things to do. Visiting a familiar place is always a better option. Head over to our Physical disabilities: out and about section for more information on the subject of travel and accessibility.
How many of you are going away? Remember, people with dementia might need extra support in a new environment. Consider bringing an additional person to help with adjustments to their routine.
There may come a time when travelling is too disorienting or stressful for the person with dementia, so remember to pick the holiday option that provides the most comfort and the least anxiety. Try choosing destinations that involve as little change to the daily routine as possible. It is a good idea to visit places that were familiar before the onset of dementia, on the chance you can revive fond memories from the past and create new ones for the future.
Planning a worry-free trip
Our first tip is this—travel at quieter times if possible, and try to avoid peak seasons and weekends. Travelling can be stressful at the best of times, but if you or your travel companion live with dementia, airports and stations can be very confusing. Changes in environment can result in the person living with dementia walking away. If you are travelling with someone with dementia, make a mental note of their clothing and perhaps carry a photo of them in case you lose touch with them.
Be sure to bring a bag of essentials with you at all times. This should include medications, travel itinerary, a comfortable change of clothes, water, snacks and activities for both you and the person with dementia.
Remember to pack up-to-date medical information (doctor's name and contact information, current medications and dosages and drug allergies) and a complete list of emergency contacts. You may also want to bring photocopies (or make electronic scans) of important legal documents (insurance information, copies of papers like legal will, power of attorney, etc.). Make sure you give your emergency contacts at home a copy of your itinerary; that way they will know where you should be at all times.
Try to avoid booking flights that require tight connections.
Make sure you let the airline know about your needs so they can help you. Most airlines will work with you to accommodate special needs.
If appropriate, tell airport employees and in-flight crew members that you are travelling with someone who has dementia.
Consider requesting a wheelchair, even if walking is not a problem.
Allow for extra time.
With at least two days’ notice, rail companies can arrange an escort to help you with your journey. See the Information for disabled passengers page on the National Rail website.
Eurostar also provides a complimentary assistance service, but again, make sure you book at least 48 hours before the journey. Visit the Special travel needs page on the Eurostar website for more information.
Avoid driving for more than two hours before taking a break.
Listen to traffic updates before you leave.
If you are planning to stop at a motorway service station, remember these areas can be sprawling complexes, which means it can be easy to get lost.
Be sure to give a copy of your phone number and vehicle details (registration number, model and colour) to the person with dementia in case they get lost.
Using public transport in London
Getting around in London by car is one thing, but using public transport is another. The good news is that there are many resources to help you tame the Tube and beat the buses.
Transport for London
In addition to all of the traditional services offered through the Transport for London (TfL) website, there is an entire section devoted to transport accessibility. For instance, did you know you could request staff assistance at all Tube, TfL Rail, Overground stations, boats, the Emirates Air Line and Victoria Coach Stations? You can get assistance from drivers on trams and buses (on DLR trains, look for a Passenger Service Agent).
TfL also offers a travel support card that you can download and use in order to let people know what assistance you may need. And for information on fares, visit the 60+ London Oystercard section of the TfL website.
Transport for All
Transport for All (TfA) is an organisation that is working to make it just as easy for you to travel on public transport as it is for anyone else. Formerly Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard users (DaRT), TfA is a great place to find how public transport is becoming more accessible to everyone, and it covers:
- The Emirate Airline (Cable Car)
TfA also has information on getting travel training or mentoring and tracking down items that have been lost on London's transport system.
In terms of door to door services, TfA can help you research the following:
- Capital Call
- Community transport
- Patient transport
- Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle
The organisation can also help you explore the following concessionary services:
- Blue Badge
- Freedom Pass
- Disabled and Older Persons Railcard
- National Express Coachcard
- 60+ Oystercard
To find out specifically about Freedom Passes, visit the London Councils Freedom Pass website.
Entertainment, culture and leisure
Going out and engaging in activities outside the home is an important part of everyday life—from local memory cafés to singing groups or other activities. Of course, the extent to which the person’s dementia has an impact on their day-to-day life will determine the activity that is most suitable.
Memory cafés have been set up across the UK for people with dementia and their carers to meet up, socialise and share their experiences. Providing a safe, comfortable and supportive environment as well as offering fun and engaging activities, memory cafés give people a chance to connect with others, form new friendships and reduce isolation for whole families.
Music groups and concerts
A key feature of dementia care, singing can improve the quality of life of people with memory loss. Not only does it help with confidence and self-esteem, but the power of music has helped unlock memories that might not otherwise be accessed.
With many sessions taking place across the country in community buildings, Singing for the Brain (organised by the Alzheimer's Society) is free and open to anyone diagnosed with dementia. The session first starts with warm-up exercises (which might include some physical movement (like rolling a beanbag up and down the leg) and continues with singing. Sometimes percussion instruments are included as well. To find a group near you, call the Alzheimer's Society on 0300 222 1122. If there is no Singing for the Brain session in your area, you can ask your GP, local authority or charities such as Age UK whether they know of any local singing groups.
Another great musical opportunity includes The Silver Song Clubs, arranged by the organisation, Sing for your Life. Taking place in community centres and day clubs, sessions include singing, movement and percussion.
If music doesn’t float your boat, how about the arts? Check out Arts 4 Dementia, a young charity set up to develop high quality events at art venues. Weekly activities cover art, design, music, dance, poetry, drama, film and photography.
In London, the Dulwich Picture Gallery also holds special events for visitors with dementia.
More activities and ideas
Many restaurants and cafes are dementia friendly. When you arrive, let staff know your situation to see whether they can give you a table in a quieter area or prioritise your order (or clear your plates quicker)!
Perhaps visit your friend or family member's past job. Be mindful that this place may have changed, so you might want to explore before you make the visit. Also, keep in mind that loud noises and modern technology might add to stress levels for someone with dementia.
Check out local learning venues like museums and galleries. Pick quieter places so you can approach and walk through at your own pace. Remember, dementia can influence concentration, so it is worth doing activities in short bursts.
Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. Garden centres, historic homes and local hotels are all quiet places that lay on afternoon teas that you can enjoy together. Visit your local tourist office for more information or check out the English Heritage website to find some fun places to explore and have afternoon tea.
Have a look online for a local sensory garden in your area. These gardens are specially designed to provide visitors with different sensory experiences, with scented and edible plants, sculptures, water features and winding walkways.
Keep an eye and ear out for local reminiscence shows.
Here's one final bit of advice. Before you go anywhere, do a recce! It is always worth checking out a venue ahead of your visit. Look out for disabled parking close to the entrance, accessible toilets, accessible footpaths and suitable cafes and restaurants.