Travel

On the Spot: Travel buddy can ensure elderly mom's safe trip

Question: My mother would like to come and visit for Christmas. She is 89 and probably shouldn't be flying alone. Suggestions?

Answer: This question, from a colleague, is particularly timely. And worrisome if you've ever dealt with a parent who wants to be mobile but shouldn't be.

There are options, and then there are expensive options. Although one should not put a price on mom's safety or presence, one must also be prepared for an outlay for both.

Airlines have "unaccompanied minor" fares as well as "unaccompanied senior" fares. "The 'unaccompanied senior' policy is much like that of the 'unaccompanied minor' policy," said Bill Miller, senior vice president of CheapOair.com. "It is much less commonly purchased than the more well-known and -utilized 'unaccompanied minor' policy but mimics the overall concept. Typically, this can cost $100 and up, also similar to the 'unaccompanied minor' policy."

If an elderly parent needs more supervision (this isn't a constant care situation), getting through the mobs, getting luggage checked and getting through security will be too much. If you don't have a sibling or friend who can fly out and back with the parent (as my sisters and I did), you can hire flying companions.

Kimarie Jones, owner and founder of Preferred Travel Helpers in Englewood, Colo., started her business so there would be a "professional service that enables everyone to travel and bridges distances and brings families together." Jones, who spent many years in the air ambulance business, does extensive background checks on her employees. (They are not contract workers, she notes). Preferred Travel Helpers then assesses the passenger's needs — is it just assistance or are there medical issues? — and matches an employee with that skill to the situation. The assistance giver will pick up the passenger at home in a cab, get to the airport, check the bags, go through security and get your loved one on the plane. Upon disembarking, the assistance giver will turn over your loved one to the receiver with proper ID.

Besides the expenses of traveling (cab, airfare and a hotel, if it's a long flight), the cost for the four legs of the trip will be about $1,000 for domestic travel (reduced for the holidays, Jones said).

Too much? Consider that the person you love may have all sorts of problems you don't know about. People in the early stages of dementia can be good actors. My mom, for instance, insisted she didn't need help, but on a flight from LAX to Washington, D.C., got lost (and later found) on a layover in the Detroit airport. (Our first mistake: putting her on a connecting flight. Our second mistake: not flying with her. Our third mistake: not picking up on the clues that she was in the initial stages of dementia.) If that person is in the later stages of the disease, constant supervision is a must. Wandering is the "biggest risk issue," said Jamie Lopez, registered nurse and vice president of nursing for Constant Care Family Management, which runs memory care facilities called Autumn Leaves in Illinois and Texas and whose caregivers sometimes fly with their clients.

The caregiver "needs to be experienced with memory impairment so they can be prepared to handle all the unforeseeable issues," including behavioral problems (increased risk for Sundowner's Syndrome if you're traveling late in the day) and personal care. (Lopez says she stuffs her pockets with extra wipes and other supplies if she's accompanying a senior.)

Getting old, as we all know, isn't for sissies. Traveling isn't for sissies of any age. But even the most stout-hearted among us may need help, whether it's an older traveler or a frantic, fretting child.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot respond to every inquiry.

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