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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I work for a major airline and saw something today that was very disturbing but more common than you might think. A relative of an 87-year-old lady with Alzheimer's disease put her on a plane with a card pinned to her clothes with her name and information written on it. It was not a nonstop flight, and we were asked to make sure she didn't get off the plane before her final destination. The traveler obviously had no idea where she was going or what to do.

Abby, as you know, things can happen when people fly. Weather and mechanical problems can leave passengers stranded away from home or their destination. Can you imagine how that would affect an already scared and confused lady?

Airline personnel are not baby sitters. People with this mental capacity should be escorted when traveling. Between elderly travelers and inexperienced travelers, we have a lot to deal with during peak seasons. -- CONCERNED AIRLINE EMPLOYEE, AMARILLO, TEXAS

DEAR CONCERNED: I can see why you're concerned. All it would take for tragedy to strike is a flight attendant who is momentarily distracted and a traveler with diminished capacity who follows people off the plane and blends into the crowd in the terminal.

The Alzheimer's Association urges families to always have a caregiver accompany someone with Alzheimer's while traveling. It also offers helpful travel tips for the caregiver. Read on:

(1) Get plenty of rest before the trip.

(2) Dress the patient in clothes that are easy to put on and remove (skirts with elastic bands for women; sweatpants for men).

(3) Have the patient wear an ID bracelet at all times. Information on it should include: name, address and phone number. In addition, inside the patient's purse or pocket, place a card with the name of the hotel or person you'll be visiting.

(4) Be sure to carry pertinent medications, medical records and insurance cards with you. (Also the tickets and money.)

(5) Check all luggage at the curb through to the final destination.

(6) Realize that change may create confusion and disorientation. Be realistic. Know going in that strange people, accommodations, time changes and busy terminals are all known to precipitate panic in AD patients.

(7) Keep the patient's diet and dining times simple and consistent.

(8) Do not travel at peak hours and seasons if at all possible.

(9) Carry a small sign that reads, "Please be patient. My ( ) has memory loss/Alzheimer's disease" to alert others of your special situation.

(10) If the AD patient is of the opposite sex and in a public restroom, ask someone to look in on him or her if it seems like it's taking a long time. Or place an "Occupied" sign on the door.

(11) Be patient. Reassuring the traveler with memory loss may mean reminding him or her repeatedly of where he or she is going.

Readers, for more valuable tips and suggestions, call the Alzheimer's Association toll-free at (800) 272-3900. Someone will be there to help you 24/7.

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