August in the UK is traditionally seen as the holiday month. Apart from the fact that most families with school-age children are restricted to holidaying at this time of year due to education regulations, there seems to be a mass desire to ‘get away’ in what is meant to be the height of the UK summer.
With this holiday season in mind, I thought it would be apt to explore the idea of holidays, past and present, in the context of people who are living with dementia. Vacations are seen as one of the most positive and enriching aspects of life from childhood to retirement, but how do they fit with the stigmatisation of dementia?
People who are newly diagnosed:
One of the aspects of life that people often feel will have to end once they are diagnosed with dementia is going away on holiday. Holidays are frequently seen as the preserve of the young and people who are healthy and retired, while many people with dementia are subjected to Prescribed Disengagement™ (as described by Kate Swaffer, a lady living with dementia) upon receiving their diagnosis.
Of course we’re all different, and holidays aren’t for everyone. Certainly my dad, a man who never travelled beyond the UK and even then was reluctant to ever go to new places, would have viewed a holiday as an endurance rather than a pleasure, but if you’re a person who enjoys going on holiday a diagnosis of dementia isn’t a reason to stop doing what gives you pleasure for as long as you feel able to continue with that.
The challenges of change when you’re on holiday:
As much as a person with dementia and their loved one(s) might want to go away on holiday, there is often anxiety on both sides about how the vacation will work out. Routine is very important, indeed vital, for many people with dementia, and holidays are naturally a break with that, although depending on the type of holiday you choose you might still be able to keep some familiar routines.
Other concerns are often around travelling arrangements and time spent travelling, differences in living accommodation (layout/comfort/design), the geography of the local area and the availability of familiar foods. Sleep patterns can also be disturbed in unfamiliar environments, and changes in temperature/climate can be problematic.
To help avoid conflicts and upsets, it’s important to understand what each person on the holiday wants out of it and think about where you are going to go very carefully. Choosing a venue that is used to supporting people with dementia and their loved one(s) should help to minimise problems and give you the peace of mind to look forward to your holiday.
Some suggestions of such venues are here: https://www.youngdementiauk.org/breaks-holidays (Please note this link is provided for information, and should not be seen as an endorsement of any particular venue or activity). For additional options, it’s always worth investigating assisted holidays for people with disabilities – it may not seem like an obvious internet search, but some companies that support people with physical disabilities may also have the ability or contacts to support people who are living with dementia.
‘Respite’ / carer breaks:
There is a perception of ‘respite’ for family carers that is characterised by the person with dementia going into care while their family carer(s) go away for a break. Whilst this may be a model that suits some families perfectly, it is important to recognise that other families want to do things differently. They don’t necessarily want to be separated from their loved one and instead want to be supported to go away as a family.
This is just another example of where a one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t work, and the individual needs and wishes of families have to be explored and wherever possible supported and facilitated. Many of the holiday venues I’ve listed above do exactly this, and hopefully we’ll see many more examples in the future.
Cost is a significant factor for most people when they are looking at taking a holiday, and many of us save for many months or even years to afford to go away. Such saving doesn’t always fit in with the unpredictability of dementia, however, and many people who are diagnosed feel an urgency to fulfil some of their travelling dreams while they are still at the height of their cognitive powers.
Other cost considerations when a person’s dementia is more advanced can be around paying for professional care, or taking a larger than usual family group on holiday so that relatives can take turns in providing more intensive care and support.
In addition, given that dementia care comes under the umbrella of social care, which in the UK is means tested, many people may simply not be able to afford to have a holiday because all of their income/savings have been spent on modifications to their home or professional care fees.
Reminiscing about holidays:
Even if health or financial factors prevent a person with dementia taking a holiday, it doesn’t mean that the many positive aspects associated with holidays have to be abandoned. Reliving past holidays through photographs, family videos, scenic pictures hung on the wall, exotic cuisine or music that is synonymous with vacations gone by can all help to engender a holiday spirit. Think too about textures and sounds – sand, rocks and wave sounds might help to prompt reminiscence about trips to the beach.
A few care homes I’ve visited have gone even further, creating beach ‘installations’ complete with deckchairs, sand and sea pictures, and some are regularly visited by the ice-cream van selling the traditional 99p cone with vanilla ice-cream.
Of course nothing will replace the excitement, discovery or relaxation many of us experience when we go away on holiday, but keeping memories alive when going away is no longer possible can still help to engender some of the feel-good factors associated with holidays.
Until next time…