By Jan Dougherty
Packing for a trip is no small task. In fact, it is a “cognitive” task that draws upon many memory and thinking functions. When packing, we need to use:
· Thinking skills to plan and problem-solve for the items that will be required for the trip;
· Memory to recall the items to bring along (even if written on a list) and where to find them in our drawers, closets, and cabinets;
· Attention and concentration to stay focused on the task;
· Vision and spatial abilities that allow us to choose the right luggage to fit the items, and;
· Initiative to start and complete the task.
Even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease/related dementia, packing may feel a bit more overwhelming. It is important to allow the person living with dementia to participate in this activity, but the care partner must be patient and supportive. This is also a great way to provide gentle cues that a trip or visit with family and friends is approaching soon.
However, if you notice that this activity creates too much anxiety, confusion, or talk of not going along, then don’t include your person in this task.
Use these tips as a way to ensure that (you) and your loved one have everything needed for the trip.
1. Begin packing for travel at least 2 days prior to your trip. This will allow you plenty of time to pick up any additional items you may not have or thought about. You need to stay relaxed and having your bags packed ahead of time will allow you to do so.
2. Include your family member as appropriate in this activity. You may have to initiate the activity by inviting your person to assist you.
3. Ensure that you have cleared your calendar and given yourself enough time so you can fully focus on this activity with your loved one. If you get impatient, he will begin to feel your impatience and become frustrated or angry.
4. Provide a written list to guide your loved one OR direct her to focus on one item at a time. Be specific. Let her know how many of each piece of apparel is needed. (See TravALZ Resources: Packing List for Him/Her)
5. Provide positive feedback as you go along. Say things like, “Thank you for your help.” “You are doing great!” “We are going to have so much fun!”
6. Don’t criticize or correct your loved one as they are attempting to pack. This will cause discouragement and may lead to an unwanted argument.
7. Lay the items out on the bed or dresser so you and/or your loved one can double-check the items before placing in the suitcase.
8. Pick out the appropriate luggage/bags you want you and your loved one to use.
9. With or without your loved one in the room, carefully double-check the items that are on the list to ensure that you have them all. If something is missing, don’t make a big deal out of it. Simply go get the item and place it in the pile or in the luggage. Likewise, if there is too much of something, simply remove it.
10. For some, it is best to close the luggage and put it in another room so your loved one will not tamper with it or become overly anxious.
Your relaxed approach to packing will assist your loved one to participate much longer in this complex activity, even if only as a spectator.