Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Traveling with a person with Dementia

Going on vacation with someone with Dementia is a new experience.  Gary and I went to Yosemite National Park last week for a few days to celebrate my birthday.  It is a place we have visited many times and know locations, attractions, restaurants, etc. very well.

I did all the packing and planning for the adventure which would include renting a cabin, cooking two meals per day (cabin was remote and not near restaurants), hiking, walking and chilling out.  In retrospect, I way over-packed but feel good about it as I never know when Gary will need layers.....too hot, too cold, etc.

For the 3.5 hour drive, he asked a gazillion questions.  Where are we going?
  • When will we get there?
  • Why are you driving so fast?
  • Why are you driving so slowly?
  • Can I drive?  Why not? (I explained at least 10 times that he no longer has a valid drivers license due to the dementia...he hates that answer and still does not accept it)
  • When are we stopping for lunch?
  • Why are we going to Yosemite?
We stopped for lunch in Oakhurst, a small town outside of the park for Pizza buffet.  I could not control his portions and he piled his plate VERY High with salad and stacked his second plate with cinnamon sticks and garlic bread.  He did not get pizza at first as he did not turn around to see the entire buffet behind him.  This lack of awareness of his surroundings is very common.  His tunnel vision is sometimes scary but mostly inconvenient.

We arrived at the cabin and he asked why we were not staying at the Ahwahnee hotel again.  I explained that the rooms there were much more expensive than the $200 per night cabin we had rented.  He dropped the subject as I asked him to assist me in bringing firewood into the cabin.

I unpacked while he familiarized himself with the cabin.  Throughout the stay, he often had to ask the location of the bathroom in the two room cabin.  One night, I awoke to have the cabin totally dark since he turned off all the lights.  He could not find the light switch nor get back to the bed.  I grumbled and complained and found the light to get him back to the bed.  Of course, in that period of time, he had gotten very cold and spent the rest of the night complaining that he could not get warm enough. ARGH!!!!

On my birthday, we went to the Yosemite Valley and walked to the Lower Yosemite Falls.  The drought conditions are horrible!  We have been to this area of the valley so many times when the water was abundant.  I commented on the horrible state of stress and by Gary's comments, I could tell, he did not recognize the change.  He was just enjoying himself and the beauty that was there.

The next day, we hiked a very easy hike to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequioas!  It was an easy .8 mile hike up and .8 back down to the bus.  As always, we were dressed appropriately in hiking pants, layers and with a hiking stick.  Four years ago, Gary and a group of friends hike up the back slope of Half Dome....a very grueling hike.  THis year, I was in the lead and often times had to stop and wait on him.  He seemed fearful of walking on the gravel and was afraid of falling.  I slowed to a crawl and walked with him.  He wanted to stop and talk to everyone on the trail. 

While friendliness on the trail is normal, his version is over the top.  Many of the visitors were not English speaking and he did not seem to recognize foreign accents and the fact that many did not understand his language nor his random, often non-sensical share-outs.  I tried to explain but finally gave up and let him experience people looking at him as if he is crazy.  Moving along seemed to solve the problem.

While hiking, I had to take inventory of my feelings regarding traveling with him in the future.  Planning needs to be extensive or plan to not take him at all.  He enjoys himself except for when something foreign to his brain happens and then he gets confused.  Confusion leads to frustration and that to yelling or uncomfortable situations.  I am not sure what to do for our 30th anniversary later this year......we have always done a spectacular trip on the "big" anniversaries. For example:

5th anniversary:  big trip to Yosemite
10th anniversary:  Windjammer cruise to the Carribean
15th anniversary:  11 day backpacking trip to Yosemite and renewed vows
20th anniversary:  Windjammer Pirate Cruise and 10 days in St. Lucia
25th anniversary:  Visited our home in Panama and toured Costa Rica for a week

30th anniversary???   At this point, who knows? I will keep you all posted as I ponder what might work. 

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