On Dementia Patients and Air Travel

Raising dementia awareness can assist caregivers and airlines to meet the challenges of traveling with dementia.

In light of the recent video showing a passenger on an airplane presenting dementia symptoms, and the disastrous outcome when asked to leave, I wanted to share insights on ways to better manage air travel with dementia. 

Someone who is presenting dementia symptoms may be challenged by new environments, new people, any change in routine, a change of time zone, noise and fatigue. Also, people with behavioral challenges will likely have difficulty. There are a number of dementia signs and symptoms that may indicate that travel is not a good idea. These include:

  • Consistent disorientation, confusion, or agitation even in familiar settings
  • Asking to go home when away from home
  • Delusional, paranoid, or disinhibited behavior
  • Problems managing continence
  • Teary, anxious, or withdrawn behavior in crowded, noisy settings
  • Agitated or wandering behavior
  • Physical or verbal aggression
  • Yelling, screaming, or crying spontaneously
  • High risk of falling
  • Unstable medical conditions

Whether the trip will be a success depends on the individual with dementia symptoms, how far the dementia symptoms have progressed, and how easily they become agitated or anxious with all of the information travel bestows upon them — and on how well the caregiver plans ahead.

No one with cognitive impairment should ever travel unescorted. Too many things can go wrong, even if you personally place your loved one on a plane, and have arranged for them to be met at the final destination, most flight attendants and customer service representatives are not specifically trained to manage dementia symptoms.  A family member or professional caregiver whom is qualified to take care of them should travel with him.

Raising dementia-awareness for everyone through education is the key. Having a transformed awareness and understanding of how dementia affects people’s lives can make a huge difference both to the experience of the customer, and to that of the airline staff involved. Several research studies have shown that spending time on teaching any individual or organization who may be dealing with a loved one, client, customer or patient (both family members and professionals), can make the difference in successfully coping with, and responding to, agitation levels in people with dementia. Research shows that a transformed dementia-awareness training education program for caregivers and all professionals, would assist in providing better outcomes overall and decreasing caregivers' and professionals’ stress levels, enabling them to communicate and respond in a more positive way, decreasing the agitation and anxiety for the person with dementia.

Laura Wayman is the author of  A Loving Approach to Dementia Care, now in its second edition. Ms. Wayman has over a decade of experience and a strong dedication to quality aging. She is a professional dementia care consultant; the CEO of The Dementia Whisperers; and a sought-after speaker on dementia and issues of aging.