A Few Thoughts on Restrooms and Travel

I am writing this morning in our hotel room in Nashville. We came up yesterday afternoon to visit with our friend, Ellen, who had a stroke four years ago while visiting her daughter who lives here. Ellen has never returned to Knoxville and is now in memory care. She and Kate were best friends at the time of the stroke.

We cut out international travel in 2015. We made what I believe is our last trip to our children’s homes (Memphis and Lubbock) for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. But we have continued day trips to Nashville and have recently made them overnight trips. That has been much easier because it is so difficult to get away early in the morning. I consider it a nice treat as well. Sometimes we meet other friends who live in the area on Saturday afternoon. We have a nice dinner and get to bed at a decent hour that night. Then we visit Ellen right after lunch on Sunday afternoon. We usually stay with her an hour or two and get back home in time for dinner.

Each time we make a trip, I reflect on how travel is going and wonder how long we will be able to keep it up. So far, I have been optimistic about continuing. With the changes that Kate is making, I am becoming more doubtful. I’m not sure at all, but I have the impression that other couples in our situation don’t generally continue to travel as long as we have. Travel can be very disorienting and disturbing to the person with dementia. In addition, the logistics place a greater demand on caregivers. It’s enough to get ready for one person. Packing for two is a greater challenge. When one person has dementia, the issues double.

Yesterday we had lunch in Knoxville before leaving. Each of us went to the restroom at the restaurant. As always, I walked Kate to the door of the ladies’ room. I opened the door and looked around to see if anyone else was in there and to identify the stall that Kate should use. I pointed it out to her, but that wasn’t enough. I had to walk her to the stall and direct her to the toilet. Then I stood outside the door in case she might need me. When she didn’t come out in what I thought was a reasonable length of time, I opened the door. She got a look of relief when she saw me. She couldn’t explain to me what had happened. My guess is that she didn’t see the door to exit the restroom and didn’t know where I was. This would not have been the first time this has happened. Usually, however, she calls for me. She might have done that this time, but I probably opened the door earlier than I have done on other occasions. What I do know is that it was a frightening experience for her. It was a little thing and forgotten quickly, but in that moment, she was really scared. It reminds me of being in a house of mirrors when I was a child. I was frightened. It seems to me that Kate, without a memory or the rational ability to deal with the situation, would be even more frightened. It was another reminder of what a security blanket I am to her. She generally doesn’t know what to do in a situation, but she counts on my knowing for her.

The drive to Nashville was an easy one. We relaxed at the hotel about an hour before going to dinner. We had a pleasant dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Kate was up at 5:00 this morning to go to the bathroom. We were back in bed by 5:30, but I don’t think either one of us was asleep again before 6:00 or shortly thereafter. I got up at 7:00, dressed, ordered and ate breakfast in the room, and checked email. I have lunch reservations at noon but hope that I will be able to get Kate up early enough to get there by 11:30. That would allow a more leisurely lunch before our visit with Ellen.

As I think about it, I don’t believe overnight trips like this are any more stressful for Kate than being at home. Yesterday’s incident in the restroom was in Knoxville before the trip. That is an issue that will have increasing implications whether we are home or on the road. I also find that she is confused about where she is when we are in a hotel, but that, too, is something that regularly happens when we are home. If we were to discontinue our trips, it would probably relate to the extra challenges for me. I don’t believe we are there just yet, but we may be getting closer. In the meantime, I am also trying to be more sensitive to how she feels when we travel. If I sense that she experiences anything more discomforting than being at home, that will be a clear indication that it is time to stop.