Critter Corner: Travel Can Be a Form of Therapy for People with Dementia

Hayek 1Dear Hayek,

I read that people with dementia have a hard time with change of location and routine. But I have also heard that travel can be a good form of therapy for someone with dementia. How can both of these things be true?

Thanks for your help!

Gwynn Sumwear

Dear Gwynn,

Many people like to travel for rest and relaxation, and new research shows that there may be significant cognitive benefits as well. Travel may be beneficial for mental well-being and may have several components that can positively impact brain health and be beneficial for some people with dementia.

A forthcoming study that will appear in the October 2022 edition of Tourism Management presents the thoughts of a team of experts in both dementia and tourism. These experts have proposed that there may be significant benefits of travel for people with dementia, particularly in the areas of mental health and well-being.

How Travel May Benefit Brain Health

The study authors proposed the potential benefits of tourism, sometimes called “travel therapy,” in treating people with dementia. Based on their expert opinion, the researchers proposed how tourism may address components of non-pharmacological interventions in people with dementia. Tourism could impact the following areas and many other elements of treatment:

  • Cognitive and sensory stimulation: Travel stimulates thoughts and knowledge, which may benefit people with dementia. It could also involve experiencing sensations that improve behavior and well-being.
  • Exercise: By its nature, travel involves movement and exercise. Maintenance and improving physical function can help people with dementia.
  • Reminiscence: Tourism may help stimulate memories in people with dementia, and talking about and remembering past experiences can be helpful for them.
  • Environment: Travel puts people in a new environment and can increase social interaction, which can stimulate brain function for people with dementia.
  • The use of musical therapy: While travel doesn’t always involve music, music can help to improve brain function and boost mood in people with dementia. Travel that has a musical component could therefore be beneficial.

The authors of the study proposed a few ways to implement components of tourism to help people with dementia, such as group travel that promotes social interactions and traveling to locations that stimulate the senses.

Traveling with Someone Who Has Dementia Isn’t Always Safe

When your loved one has dementia, it’s essential to honestly evaluate their symptoms before making a decision about whether or not they should travel with you. Even if someone is doing well in their familiar environment and daily routine, that doesn’t necessarily mean travel will go smoothly. For example, wandering, agitation, or angry outbursts could increase when they’re out of their comfort zone. That’s because routine and being home create feelings of security and comfort.  Remember, safety is always the top priority, both for your loved one and for you. Also, be sure to read today’s other article about the “doorway effect,” which might be a reason not to travel for some individuals with dementia.

Signs That Traveling with Dementia Isn’t Safe

In general, these dementia symptoms mean that travel likely isn’t a safe option for your loved one:

  • Later stage dementia;
  • Frequent disorientation, confusion, or agitation (even in familiar places);
  • Wandering behavior;
  • Problems managing incontinence;
  • High risk of falls;
  • Getting upset or anxious in crowded or loud environments;
  • Frequent or sudden yelling, screaming, or crying;
  • Wanting to go home while on short outings or visits;
  • Delusional, paranoid, or inappropriate behavior;
  • Physical or verbal aggression;
  • Unstable medical conditions.

Also, a person with dementia shouldn’t travel alone. There are lots of decisions to make, complex directions to follow, and strangers to interact with, so a trusted caregiver, friend, or loved one should accompany them.

If you travel this summer, be safe and have fun!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.