Plan successful outings, while supporting your loved ones’ physical and mental well-being.
- Posted on Jul 18, 2021
The great outdoors can fast become the greatly disconcerting outdoors for a person who lives with dementia. Familiar surroundings hold sway because any new environment can easily cause confusion and disorientation. But your loved one needs fresh air and engaging activities—as long as he or she is able to get out and about—in order to maintain physical and mental well-being. Planning carefully for outings, both short and extended, can help you to head off potential agitation and distress and to enjoy your time together.
Here are some tips to plan successful outings with your loved one:
If you’re planning a fun activity, give some good thought to what sorts of things your loved one has always liked to do. Also consider who this person is now. What are his or her current needs and abilities? Ask for your loved one’s input, if possible. Maybe you’ll want to do lunch at a favorite restaurant or have a latte and scone at a coffeehouse. Maybe a nature area beckons, either for a short walk or a drive with the windows down. You could head somewhere to pet animals, breathe in flowers or plants at a botanical garden, unwind with foot massages, drink in art at a museum or window shop at a mall. It could be that your loved one wants to spend some time at a place of worship, either alone or at a service with others. Sacred music, prayer and spiritual reflection—on holidays or otherwise—can be tremendously comforting.
If you need to take your loved one to a medical or other appointment, try not to compound any stress by adding your own. Stay as calm as you can by taking deep, full breaths, and avoid rushing. Communicate with your loved one in positive tones, both before and during the appointment. Be a patient advocate by communicating with medical professionals on your loved one’s behalf. Try not to throw mealtimes out of whack, unless fasting is required for a test. Maybe you’ll want to grab a relaxing bite or iced drink afterwards as a reward to you both.
Keep in mind what parts of the day your loved one generally feels best. Mornings can be difficult for someone who has trouble sleeping at night, for instance. Hurrying to get somewhere is stressful. Maybe your loved one gets restless in the afternoon, and getting out and about then works well. Before you do set out, be clear about where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, how long it should take, when you’ll be home and who will be involved, if anyone else.
Try not to make the outing last longer than it needs to by doing too much. Notice when your loved one’s energy flags, and if the signs are there, get back into the car and head home. Try to read these signs early enough that you’re able to wind things down before your loved one gets overtired—a perfect prescription for agitation and confusion.
It’s important to dress appropriately for wherever you’re going, but make sure your loved one wears clothing and shoes that don’t constrict and will be comfortable for the duration of the outing. Make sure he or she is dressed properly for the weather since it’s easy for someone with to dementia to disregard necessary items like gloves, a hat or coat, or cool pieces in the summer. Make sure that shoes with laces are tied. Check that your loved one has a wallet with proper identification, etc.
Bring along water and light snacks that keep your loved one hydrated and keep blood sugar balanced. If there’s something that makes him or her feel especially comfortable, like a blanket or stuffed animal, bring it along. Have an up-to-date list of medications on-hand.
Starting right outside the door, clear any tripping hazards. Take your loved one’s arm as you walk, if balance is an issue. It’s always a good idea, regardless, to take special care on steps and sidewalks or other areas that aren’t level. Take particular caution on wet or icy surfaces. Don’t wander off ahead, especially in traffic, and take things slow.
If you’re going to a restaurant or café, try to choose one that’s not too busy or crowded. Look for a nice, quiet table that’s not too far from the entrance or restrooms. Your loved one may get overwhelmed by having too many people nearby, so if one table doesn’t work well for him or her, ask to move to another. Offer help in ordering things you know your loved one likes. Finger foods can be a good choice if dexterity is an issue. Don’t be shy about asking for extra napkins or spoons and bowls, if needed. Go to the restroom with your loved one if you’re concerned that he or she could fall.
On outings that include family members or friends, make sure the others understand that your loved one’s behaviors may be influenced by dementia. Don’t engage in memory tests or argument. If he or she doesn’t recognize somebody or remember a name or event, it’s okay. Don’t say things like “Don’t you remember?” Take care not to speak to your loved one as if he or she were a child. Be respectful. Make eye contact and address your loved one by name. Include him or her in the conversation. It’s easy for someone who has dementia to feel patronized or marginalized. Learn more quick tips on how to respond to inappropriate behavior in public.
As with day trips, comfort is king on overnights or other extended outings. Pack your loved one’s coziest lounge wear, pajamas and slippers. Think ahead to include any necessary items he or she may not consider, like toiletries and a clean change of clothing, as well as medications, supplements, medication list, health insurance card and doctor’s contact info. An ID bracelet and recent photo of your loved one are good to have if he or she has a tendency to wander. Don’t overtax yourselves. If you’re staying in a hotel, try to get to the room early and relax. Keep to regular times to eat and go to bed. Leave the bathroom light on at night.
Memories are fleeting. It’s truly the moment that counts. Relish the time you have with your loved one, and do what you can to make it as ripple-free and positive as possible. If you need help on either short or extended outings with your loved one, you may want to consider hiring a skilled in-home care aide or healthcare professional to lend a hand so that you can focus as much as possible on enjoying these special times between the you and your loved one.