Simplify Car Travel With Older Loved Ones

Photo of a woman helping a senior woman out of a car, for an article about planning for senior car travel.

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By LISA M PETSCHE

If you are planning to take an older relative on a vacation that involves car travel, thorough preparation is the key to success, especially if the person has special healthcare needs.

Follow these tips for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Planning

  • Set realistic expectations. Consider your loved one’s needs and limitations. 
  • Make plans and start necessary preparations well in advance. Devise lists to reduce stress.
  • Include your loved one in the preparations to the best of their ability. 
  • Learn the location of the nearest hospital in any areas you plan to visit. Avoid destinations where a hospital is far away.
  • Arrange for your relative to visit the doctor pre-trip. Share your travel plans and any health-related concerns, such as motion sickness, bladder issues, or circulation problems. 
  • If your loved one has trouble walking long distances, rent a wheelchair or ensure that the places you plan to visit have some available. 
  • Have your car checked and serviced before departure. 
  • If you are going to an unfamiliar area, obtain a road map and study it. If you belong to an automobile club, take advantage of its route-planning service. 
  • Plan to do as much driving as possible during off-peak traffic times. Or choose the scenic route if time and your loved one’s sitting tolerance permit.

Packing

Include the following items when drawing up a packing list:

  • Loose-fitting, breathable clothing, comfortable walking shoes, a wide-brimmed hat, and a cardigan for air-conditioned environments and cool evenings. 
  • Sufficient prescription and over-the-counter medications to cover the time you plan to be away, plus a few extra days’ worth, in case your return is delayed. 
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent, antihistamine, and motion sickness tablets. 
  • A list of all health conditions and medications in case of a medical emergency.
  • Any necessary medical equipment and supplies, such as a walking aid, food supplements, incontinence pads, or diabetic supplies. 
  • A cushion or two for comfortable positioning in the car. 
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses and spare hearing aid batteries. 
  • Sunglasses and umbrellas (the latter primarily for instant shade). 
  • A pillow and a nightlight. 
  • Snacks and a cooler containing sandwiches and beverages.
  • Favorite music or audiobooks for the ride. 
  • Emergency roadside and first aid kits. 
  • Cell phone (charge it in advance and bring a recharging unit). 
  • Disabled parking permit. 

Driving

  • Top off the gas tank at frequent intervals. 
  • Stop approximately once per hour for stretch breaks or short walks. 
  • Choose stops that have clean, well-lit restrooms with good accessibility. 
  • Wear seatbelts and, if your relative is in the front seat, ensure that the headrest is centered at the back of their head. 
  • Encourage your loved one to shift their weight often and to do neck and shoulder stretches and foot flexes.

Lodging

  • When checking in, ask for a room close to the lobby or elevator. A ground-floor room is ideal in case of an emergency in which elevators become inoperable.
  • If your loved one has a back problem, request a room with a recently replaced mattress.

Recreation

  • Space out activities and allow ample time for each. 
  • Schedule outings for the time of day when your relative’s energy level is highest. Stick to regular meal, medication, and sleep times. 
  • Have a flexible itinerary. Take things one day—and one activity—at a time. 
  • Ensure plenty of time for rest and relaxation! ISI

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in elder care.

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