Did you and your family get a chance to get away this summer? If so, perhaps it was to a place near the water, perhaps a cottage on a lake or by the ocean. It may be a cottage you have been going to for years, one that you want to keep escaping to for as long as you can. If that sounds like you, and if you own the cottage, you may want to start planning now to make sure the cottage, and the community where it is located, is safe and friendly, even if your health, or the health of a family member, has declined. The alternative could be future vacations that you come to dread or put off entirely.
I do a lot of work with clients on Martha’s Vineyard, and was able to be there several times this summer (and not always for work thank goodness). I was speaking with a client recently who told me about an elderly neighbor’s family who was spending the summer at the family cottage fairly close to the ocean. The wife, who has dementia, is cared for at home by family members and, on occasion, home health aides. One day this summer, family and friends were at a neighborhood party outside when someone noticed that “mom” was missing. Fortunately, like many vacation communities, this one is tightly knit, so neighbors and friends were soon searching around town and finally found her — on the beach, looking at the ocean.
Some clients back home told me of a couple that was not as lucky. The wife also had dementia. The couple had gone to their home on a lake up north. Although there were family members around, one day mom wandered off and tragically drowned in the nearby lake.
Obviously, these are not the kinds of vacation stories we like to hear. Take them as cautionary tales that may help you as you make vacation plans for the future.
Here are some tips:
- If you are vacationing out of state, make sure your Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy are up to date and take them with you to be ready in case of emergency. Check to be sure they are enforceable wherever you are going. Make sure that anyone visiting you from out of state does the same.
- If your loved one lives in Massachusetts and is receiving home care or other services at home, you should be able to get those same services reimbursed if you are staying in Massachusetts for your vacation. You will need to do some paperwork, though, to achieve this.
- If your spouse, parent, or other loved one has dementia and you know that you want to return to that vacation home next summer, reach out now to the Council on Aging in the vacation community to find out about the programs that will be available there next summer. The COA will probably be your best source for finding home care, support groups, and other services to make your vacation safe and less stressful.
- Consider getting active, even from a distance, to help develop programs in the vacation community for summer visitors. Remember, if you are visiting a major summer vacation community, you are not alone in facing these issues. That community has a direct economic stake in having you come back. In many places, like Martha’s Vineyard, people are developing programs for storeowners, restauranteurs, and others to train staff in dealing politely and appropriately with customers who have dementia and other cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
- Make your cottage safe for your loved one who has a disability. No one needs or wants memories of a vacation that ends in tragedy.