By Cheryl Edwards-Cannon
My mother lived with dementia for more than 15 years. For as long as she was able, I made every effort to take her along with me whenever I did my errands. It was good for her and I truly enjoyed her company. That’s not to say that going out was easy. It required a lot of advance preparation – and a healthy sense of humor! (You really can’t make up some of the stuff that happens when you take older adults out for a spin.) But in the end, it was worth it because it enhanced my mother’s life and provided pleasant memories and stories about our relationship. Here are a few “sanity tips” for taking a loved one with dementia on an outing.
Taking my mother on errands enhanced her life and provided us plenty of memorable stories to share.Cheryl Edwards-Cannon
Always anticipate what might go wrong – and be prepared. Bring along a snack, wet wipes, rubber gloves and a change of clothes in case there is an accident. Think of your “adult survival kit” as a parent would if travelling with a young child. You will need to be comfortably dressed in something with plenty of pockets. Events happen quickly and rummaging through a purse searching for a tissue may not be possible.
In the event there are unforeseen delays, you might need to help soothe or focus your loved one. Pack a small, portable “focus object” such as a magazine with lots of photos to look at in case you need to wait in line. Also, mentally prepare a few “games” to help your loved one stay occupied. For example, you could ask your loved one to play “I Spy” and look for certain items while you are waiting your turn in line. If your car is equipped with a DVD player, pop in a movie as entertainment for longer trips. Don’t forget music! A CD of their favorites songs provides an opportunity for all to join in.
People with dementia get easily distracted or overwhelmed. If you are venturing into a store, think about its set up: are the aisle wide and easy to navigate? Or are they stocked with extra merchandise in the aisles? Is the music loud or the lighting harsh? These elements can prove too much for some dementia patients, so choose venues that are less chaotic or packed with excess visual stimulation.
Depending on where your loved one is in their progression with dementia, you’ll need to enact extra safety measures. For example, my mother reached a point where she needed to hold my hand so that she would not wander off. Depending on the venue, let them wander provided they are always in your line of sight. If you are in a store that has shopping carts, have your loved one push the cart for you. It makes them feel like they are helping out and it will you provide assurance that they are just a few steps away.
Even though getting someone with dementia out of the house might seem challenging, with preparation and careful selection of your destination, you and your loved one can experience a meaningful time together.
About the author – Cheryl Edwards-Cannon holds a certificate in Gerontology and is the owner of Clear Path Choices, a consultancy that helps families provides direction and support for families facing elderly care challenges. She is the author of Taking Care of Miss Bee Bee and her writing has been featured in three Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Learn more at: www.clearpathchoices.com.
Want more stories like these? Check out our archives on being a friend to the elderly.