By Faith Unger
Every work day I eat the very same breakfast—oatmeal, juice, soy milk, and green tea. Is it because this is a favorite meal choice? No, it’s because I’m not a morning person, so fixing the same breakfast every morning saves me from thinking. I do it on auto pilot.
Similarly, an individual with a cognitive disability thrives on using auto pilot. For them, the brain pathways don’t work as well as they formerly did, so thinking requires more effort. Staying in a routine and doing things the same way every day requires less thinking.
Traveling shakes up the old routine, and takes away the familiarity, requiring more thinking effort, which increases the stress and anxiety that further impedes the thinking process. Knowing all this, and experiencing all this, may make a caregiver decide to forgo travel—but not this traveler!
I choose to continue traveling with my dear husband because we have three adult children living in other cities, and spending time with them is very important. To make travel easier on both of us, I’ve adopted new strategies and continue searching for more good ideas from other caregivers.
Planning ahead is vital to smoother travel. This is true for all types of travel, but especially for airplane travel, which involves big, busy airports. Begin the preparation by requesting from the doctor a simple written letter stating the person’s diagnosis and assurance that the caregiver is prepared to assist the person on the trip. This letter will help to get more support from airport personnel when needed, and can be used as evidence that the person having a meltdown is not a terrorist, but, rather, a person with a chronic disease.
My care recipient is very prone to losing things, so I minimize the items he will carry with him as we travel. He wears a lanyard around his neck which contains his boarding pass, and on the back of the lanyard is a card with a simple message stating that this person has a cognitive disability and if he is lost, please call one of the two cell phone numbers listed. One of the numbers is mine and one belongs to another family number. My husband understands that if he becomes lost in the airport, he is to go to an “official airport person” and show him this card. It reduces some of his fear of getting lost, and certainly helps me feel better!
The airport can be very confusing to navigate, and losing your traveling partner is very easy. Airport bathrooms have special problems. because most have more than one possible exit. We now use the family bathroom, which is smaller and has only one entrance and exit—wonderful stress easer!
Going through airport security is traumatic for most people, but especially worrisome for someone with a disability. I have learned to communicate with the airport screeners that my husband has a disability and may need extra help. They have been most gracious about going the extra mile to ensure a smooth transition.
I have used this same approach with airplane boarding and thus been allowed to board early before the crush. I breathe a huge sigh of relief when we’re safely tucked into our seats, and then prepare for the next big challenge—two or three hours seated in a very small space with no possible exit. Good luck on this one!
For more information see the following web sites:
Faith Unger is the CaregivU Program Director at AGE of Central Texas.