On the Road In Concord CA With, or Without, Elderly Parents

On the Road With, or Without, Elderly Parents

It’s August, time for a vacation from everything stressful — work, commuting, heat, congestion. But what about care giving? Do adult children of elderly parents deserve a break from them, too?

Plenty of New Old Age readers no doubt identify with a woman who, describing herself and her husband as “empty-nesters in our 50s,” recently raised this question in Slate’s provocative advice column, “Dear Prudence.”

Bringing her husband’s 80-plus-year-old-parents along on vacations, the woman wrote, “is more stressful than going to work.”

The older couple “cannot travel as they used to,” making it difficult for the 50-somethings to relax together, which their punishing jobs rarely allow them to do. Yet her mother-in-law calls almost nightly, she wrote, “begging us to take them.” Her question: “Are we selfish to want to be alone on our

Emily Yoffe, the “Dear Prudence” columnist, responded that it is not selfish “to balk at attending to very demanding old people when you are trying to grab some precious free time.” If the in-laws don’t want to travel on their own, she wrote, they should consider “the myriad group travel possibilities for older people.”

Indeed, older people have a growing number of vacation options, with or without an adult child to help them get around. With the recession cutting deeply into vacation budgets, the travel industry has begun reshaping itself to accommodate older and frailer travelers, who often have more money to spend than working-age people. Cruise lines, always popular among retirees, now cater to even more senior voyagers. One Web site touts “staff members to help disabled or physically impaired guests move around more easily,” as well as personnel “trained to work with elderly people in order to make their
stay more comfortable.”

Tom Fitzgerald, an AARP travel expert, said many older travelers choose riverboat rather than ocean liner cruises. “On a river cruise, you can enjoy looking at the town from the ship. On a big ocean liner, they’re sailing the ocean and they dock in a port. You usually need to take a bus or a taxi into town.” He said he urges travelers to call cruise directors to verify what “hotels and cruise lines are doing to retrofit for an older population that may need elevators or wheelchairs.”

Elderhostel, an educational travel organization that attracts people in their 60s and 70s, has discovered that many of its clients want to keep traveling well into their 80s and even 90s. The organization has added more travel aboard ships and, for land-based trips, makes wheelchairs and taxis available to those who find walking too taxing. “We can make any program, within reason, accessible,” said James Moses, president of Elderhostel, whose programs now go under the name Road Scholar.

Even nursing home residents are hitting the road. In what it called the Chutzpah Mission, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, in the Bronx, flew eight nursing home residents, ages 77 to 93, to Israel for two weeks in 2004. The home brought along medications in blister packs and advance directives for everyone. The entourage included a nurse, a doctor, the home’s director of social services, a nurse’s aide and orderlies — enough staff for all but two residents to room with a professional caregiver.

“I thought there was a statement to be made about elderly people traveling,” said Daniel Reingold, chief executive of the Hebrew Home, who had the idea for the trip. “There was something very fulfilling and affirming about planning a trip most people would say, ‘You’ve got to be out of your mind to do this.’ ”

Each time the travelers got off their tour bus and into wheelchairs or behind walkers to view another historic site, they were surrounded by Israeli children snapping photographs, according to Mr. Reingold. “They were celebrities,” he said.

Since then, he said, he has shared travel tips with two other Jewish nursing homes that replicated the trip, as well as a Lutheran home in Michigan that took war veterans to Washington for a tour that emphasized military history.

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For information about how Senior Care Authority can help you and your family care for an aging loved one, visit www.seniorcareauthority.com.