Ask the Expert – Kate Pomplun
Now that travel has begun again, my mom talks about driving to see us and the grandkids. A lot has changed with her health and mental status over the last year. She manages okay in familiar settings, but I worry about her traveling beyond her local circle. We have all missed each other so much in the last year and we want her to see people, but I’m concerned about her ability to manage traveling, even if she flies.
The discussion about when a person should stop driving is always among the toughest. People would rather discuss their funeral plans and what to do with the antiques when they die than the possibility of giving up the keys. Throw in a global pandemic, which kept people at home or within a small radius geographically, and the idea of getting back to traveling longer distances becomes even more complicated. Even if giving up the keys isn’t an issue, travel concerns include managing a flight or two as well.
It does not sound like your mom needs to give up driving entirely (lucky you, you all dodged that one – for now), but maybe she shouldn’t be taking a road trip or hopping on a plane without some extra help. So many people have been isolated from loved ones over the last year or more and are very anxious to finally meet that grandbaby, or make it to the wedding that had been put off or simply catch up with family and friends face to face. These social connections are so important to maintaining one’s health. In fact, the National Council on Aging reports in a recent article about the effects of mental health due to social isolation among older adults during COVID-19, that prolonged social isolation increases risk for depression, cognitive decline and dementia. It can also affect the ability of someone to conduct activities of daily living, including driving. (ncoa.org/article/covid-driven-isolation-can-be-dangerous-for-older-adults)
The problem becomes two fold. She and you want to prevent more social isolation and lack of positive face to face connections, thus improving her quality of life. However, your mom has likely declined in mental capacity and physical ability, whether due to isolation during COVID-19 or through the aging process and decline.
Having an open discussion about your concerns, while still encouraging her to continue with her travel plans – with some added assistance as described below – may actually be a relief to her. With a bit of help, it could allow for her to see people she’s missed without shouldering all the work of planning and carrying out travel plans.
You and her other loved ones could suggest some of these ideas:
Manage the logistics: Offer to help book direct flights and set up transportation to and from the airport. Depending on her physical and mental abilities, she could utilize the airport escort service to safely and accurately get her to her gate. Booking tickets and setting up transportation to the station could also be done for train travel or bus. This could be successful if she can manage appropriately once she is on the plane/train/bus.
Manage and provide a travel companion: You can still help set things up logistically, but if she’s not able to manage even once she’s on the plane/train/bus, maybe a friend or family member can ride along with her. If traveling by car is most appropriate, someone could offer to drive her. Even if that family member or friend isn’t able to stay for the visit, maybe there is someone else who could drive or ride back with her. Bonus: She gets the added socialization of visiting with that person while traveling!
Manage and delegate the escort: Slightly different from above, you could still manage the logistics, but if a friend or family member isn’t able or it’s not practical to travel to her in order to travel with her, you could utilize a home care companion or an Aging Life Care™ Manager. Just as you would pay the hourly rate for someone to provide management, care or companionship in her home, you may be able to hire someone to do so while traveling with her.
Other things to consider:
Task of packing: With decreased cognitive abilities, plus not traveling for some time, your mom might struggle with what to pack, how to pack it, what’s permitted if flying, what form of identification she’s going to need to show and when. Someone may want to help her go over her needed items and ensure they’re packed in accessible places. This could be done in person or possibly over the phone or video call.
Environmental safety: Even if you can work out how to get her to her friends and family, depending on your mom’s abilities, you’ll want to consider how she will do once staying there. Will she easily be confused staying in a different house? Does the bathroom she’ll be using have safety measures if she needs a walk-in shower, grab bars, or uncluttered flooring (think throw rugs) to prevent falls, etc.?
Alternate ideas: If getting your mom to see her loved ones and ensuring a safe place for her to stay just isn’t practical, maybe talking to those loved ones to see who can get to her would be most beneficial. Maybe short day trips that allow her to return to the familiarity of her home are best. Think a little outside the box before dismissing the possibilities. Maybe the grandchildren with the new baby don’t have the travel funds to get to her and pay for lodging, but your mom is able to use her travel funds to get them there.
It’s a good sign that your mom is actively seeking social connection with the loved ones she’s missed. It’s likely you can come up with a plan to help her do so and in return, as the study shows, her overall health is likely to benefit.
Home Care Assistance For Your Loved One
If you have a loved one who could use a little in-home care or assistance with traveling, consider joining our online registry. As the only accredited Caregiver registry in North Carolina, CaregiverNC’s mission is to provide an easy and efficient way for you to find safe and reliable Caregivers for yourself or a loved one. Contact us online, or call our team at (910) 692-0683 today!