Flying with a Parent with Alzheimer’s Disease


Agonizing isn’t necessary, but that is what I do.  Ever since mom and dad returned to their mobile home in the south over 2 years ago, I had been dreading this trip.  Of course, for most of that time I expected to be traveling with two elderly parents with dementia.  The fear came from the problems mom and dad had on their flight north in May 2009 and the fact that both mom and dad had deteriorated significantly since then.

At that time, mom and dad were on line at the security gate behind hundreds of others.  Dad had to go to the men’s’ room, so he left mom in line with the suitcases while he went.  Mom waited and waited and waited.  She checked her watch, tried to push the suitcase forward and worried.  Where was dad?  After awhile the lady in line ahead of mom told her she thought she saw dad standing “over there”.  Dad was just standing in front of the men’s room, totally confused.  Mom asked the helpful lady to please watch their suitcases while she went to get dad.

Although mom was afraid to fly south again with dad the following fall, they were able to go because this time they were leaving from a very small airport.  My brother drove them to the airport, got a wheelchair and accompanied them through security.  He was also able to go with dad to the men’s room when that was necessary.

But, how would I bring him home through a huge airport all by myself?  Now that mom had passed away, I had decided to bring dad north to live near me.  Before flying, I wanted to be totally prepared for anything that might go wrong.  Since he was moving all of his belongings, I arranged to have the mover move everything, including our suitcases.  The only carry-on I had was a backpack containing extra clothing, Depends for dad, snacks, medications for dad and myself and other small items.  Everything else was shipped.  I shipped one box a week ahead so dad would have some clothing and personal items while he waited for the mover to arrive.

In addition, I hired one of his aides to accompany us to the airport, through security to the gate. She could stay with dad while I handled the tickets and papers if we got separated going through security.  The aide pushed dad in the wheelchair and I walked beside them.

I purchased tickets for the only non-stop flight of the day to eliminate the chance of problems at a second airport.  Dad might get confused or lost when I didn’t have the aide with me.  Also, I had been delayed by storms and mechanical problems in the past and didn’t want to take any chances.  The only problem was that this was an evening flight and I would have preferred to travel earlier in the day with him.

I had found some good information on the Internet and wrote up a list of things I needed to do.  (I don’t still have that list, but found a link that will give you much of that same information and more.  It is by Alzheimer’s Compendium, a blog written by a family member of an Alzheimer’s patient.)

I checked the website for the airline –AirTran — and found “Passengers with Disabilities and Special Needs“.  I called the airline and they said to call again after I purchased the tickets.  They wanted to know the date, time and flight number.  In addition, they needed the driver’s license information (name –as it appeared on the driver’s license — and the driver’s license number) for me, my dad and the aide at least 24 hours in advance of the flight.  This would make it possible for the aide to go through security to the gate with us.  I also reserved the wheelchair for both the departure and arrival airports at that time.

I also had my father’s doctor write a letter saying that he had Alzheimer’s.  I tried to convince dad to wear Depends so I wouldn’t lose him in the men’s room but he refused.  I didn’t want him to go to the lavatory in the airplane either, as his walk was unsteady and I was afraid he would forget how to unlock the door.

I was worried it would be too cold for dad when we got home.  It was a record-setting winter and dad had no winter coat.  I asked my son to meet us at the airport and bring along an extra coat and blanket for dad.

All that preparation paid off for us.  Dad didn’t wear Depends, but did wear his US Marine’s hat.  That and the fact that he was in his mid-90’s got him lots of special thanks and attention.  As we went through the security line, we were directed to a special line for those with special needs.  All the uniformed screeners shook dad’s hand and thanked him for his service to his country.  They asked if he could walk through the scanner and he did.  Otherwise he stayed in his wheelchair and the three of us got through security in record time.  I was amazed.  And thankful!

After we got near the gate, I purchased supper for the 3 of us and we relaxed for awhile.  The flight was delayed about an hour but finally it was time to board.  Dad usually goes to bed at 6 each evening.  On this evening we didn’t even board our flight until half past seven.  We arrived in our home airport about an hour late.  My son was waiting for us with a wheelchair and we were on our way to my apartment.  Dad said: “I hope you have something to eat.  I’m starving”.

I looked at my son.  I hadn’t been home in 5 months and had no food in the house.   I asked to stop at the Golden Arches for dad to get his big Mac, but it was too late.  They closed at 11.  Instead we went to the grocery store as they were open 24/7.  I sat dad down at the front of the store on one of the benches to wait while I went to find him some prepared foods.  I was lucky I found some prepared chicken and checked out.  When we got to my home I microwaved the chicken and dad ate and went to bed – almost 6 hours later than usual.

I took a little time to sort through the mail and check email and then I went to bed also.  I was up early the next morning and had to wake dad after 9.  He had an appointment at the new assisted living facility for mid-morning and I didn’t want to be late.  Dad slept through the night.  He made it the whole trip without even stopping at the men’s room until we got home!

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About letstalkaboutfamily

I am a retired and was the primary caregiver for both my parents before they passed. I have children and grandchildren. This blog is an attempt to connect with other caregivers and share ideas and experiences. I hope you will let me know what worked for you if you had an experience similar to mine. The main issues I am going to talk about are elder care, death and dying, assisted living, family relationships and hoarders and hoarding. Other topics will come up as I address the issues and my relationship with other family members.
This entry was posted in Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Elder Care, Eldercare, Transportation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Flying with a Parent with Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Ellen Reaves says:

    Great Post! I remember when I took my Dad on a plane, (It was a small airport so we were lucky) he was in his middle stages of Alzheimer’s. I did not have that much anxiety about the 2hour flight. I know that I watched him like a hawk and when he had to go to the men’s room, I waited outside for him. It is much better to be prepared.

  2. Thanks, Ellen,

    I’m a nervous flyer — all by myself. I don’t like to stand up to walk to the restroom. I don’t like to change planes. I hate going through security. It just added stress to have my dad going too. Really the travel part was much easier than my worries ahead about it. I think it was just the last barrier to bringing dad home and I was afraid something would go wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t.

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