Family Caregiving in the Car

One of the things I dreaded was traveling. Even the short distance to the grocery store was fraught with possible catastrophe when accompanied by someone with dementia. I had to be aware of what my mother was doing and feeling at all times so I could anticipate her needs and forestall tantrums and tears.

New family caregivers need to understand that their charges may be uncomfortable because they’re not in a familiar place or situation. They may not be able to express this insecurity but it can lead to acting out or being glum. Over time, I learned what things to bring or to do to make a drive, long or short, more manageable for me and less stressful for my mother.

cars taxis on zebra crossing

Photo by Ryoji Iwata

Personal Assurance

When your charges are out of their normal environment, it helps to have something familiar. I’m not saying to pack a suitcase of clothes or to replicate a living room in your car. Simple things are possible.

  • Bring a favorite pillow, blanket, toy or other object.
  • Bring a memory book that they can flip through while you drive. See this post on how make a memory book.
  • Bring a small tote with small things that your loved one likes to keep around. Think of it like a grab bag. For example, a dementia sufferer may insist on looking for something all during the trip. Not finding it will cause agitation and anger. Best to have available frequently needed items in the tote. It will give the person something to do as well.


Long drives can be exhausting for everyone. An able-bodied, healthy person can adjust their seat, position or temperature to be more comfortable. The elderly and disabled may not be able to seek comfort on their own. They may not be familiar with the car and don’t know how to make small adjustment or they may not be physically unable to do so. As the family caregiver, try to anticipate the coming journey, especially if it’s a long one.

When we are in a car, we take for granted that we are seated. An elderly person tires easily. As they tire, they may lean more towards one side or lean forward. Someone may suffer from severe arthritis in the back or legs so sitting for a long period may be akin to torture.

Here are some things to consider to increase your passenger’s comfort:

  • Use a bed lounger or support pillow. This is a tall pillow with arms that are normally used for reading in bed. Place the lounger in the back seat. Besides comfort, a lounger will give your passenger some support on the sides.
  • Use throw pillows to prop arms or support the back or head.
  • Place a layer of foam padding on the back seat. This is sometimes referred to as an egg crate mattress or padding. It reduces pressure on certain points of the body. If not a layer across the entire seat, you can try a foam padded seat.
  • Bring a loose sweater or zip sweatshirt that your passenger can drape over themselves to warm up.
  • On long trips where snacking is likely, make sure to have a folded bath towel to cover your loved one’s lap and/or chest. There is nothing worse than wet or soiled clothes so do what you can to prevent it.
  • Sunglasses can help prevent heat and glare from disturbing your charge.
throw pillows on seat

Photo by Poojitha Prasad


This is where the generation gap can cause problems. Let’s face it. Everyone has different tastes in music and media. Your charge may hate hearing your favorite band or radio station. Unless you can carry on a lengthy conversation while driving, then find something for your loved one to do. Here are some possible options:

  • CD Player – A CD player has the advantage of being simple to operate. There are switches to press or turn instead of screens that need to be touched and swiped a certain way. Your loved one can have a series of CDs in an album case and change the CDs as they like. With headphones, they can be jamming to their tunes.
  • Media Player like an iPod Touch – A more capable equivalent to a CD player. You can pre-load a playlist of music, audio books or movies on to the player.

    chicago cubs baseball cap

    Photo by Blake Guidry

  • A transister radio – This type of very old-fashioned radio is still sold in stores or online. If your loved one is a sports fanatic, then the journey is more enjoyable if they can listen to the game. Similar to a CD player, this radio has dials and switches that are easy to operate and the display is clear.
  • A media reader like a Kindle or iPad – If your loved one loves to read, then loading the Kindle with new stories could keep them occupied for hours. A few movies on an iPad serves the same purpose.


I’m referring to safety in your vehicle not safety at your destination. Your eyes and concentration are on the road, right? Unless you possess an extra eye, you can’t watch your loved one the entire time.

Here are some car travel safety tips that any caregiver could use:

  • Please do not forget to activate the child lock on all the doors except the driver’s door. If your charge is in the passenger seat and is agitated for whatever reason, the natural need is to get out of the car. Someone with dementia won’t care that the car is moving. They may pull the door lever. If the child lock is not activated, then an accident could happen.
  • Do not try to answer your phone via a hands-free method. Just let it ring. Return the call once you have reached your destination.
  • If your charge becomes combative or argumentative, best to stop somewhere like a gas station. Stop the car and try to deal with whatever the problem is. Resume your journey once your loved one is settled and calm.


Traveling with the elderly or disabled doesn’t have to be a daunting trial on every trip. Some advanced preparation can ease the experience for both you the caregiver and your charges.

Maria is a Hubspot-certified digital marketer and blogger. This self-confessed rat race refugee left a 20+ year technology career to take on the challenges of family caregiving. She published her first Kindle novel Conway 6-7. Lately, she has been dabbling in interactive fiction game development. She is a Certified Caregiving Advocate and lives near Chicago.




    Hi Maria, thank you so much for sharing your tips. Being a caregiver is very exhausting and very little bite can help!

  2. Reply

    Looking after someone with dementia to seems like taking care of a adolescent who has no idea what is really going but are in their own world . This is no fault of there own it is just life. So your idea for a memory book that help to gather all the essential things for a trip seems a like a really good thing .As it will help the driver and passenger to have a safer less stressful experience all around .

  3. Reply

    This is such great information for caregivers and it is especially meaningful because of how personal the subject matter is to you. Very well written. I think this is a great resource for others.

  4. Reply

    Hey Maria, I feel your passion in your writing, that you are a real special person with a kind heart. I do not have an elderly person that I care for right now, but I can understand and appreciate your journey. You have made this stressful journey to be so comfortable & understanding for a person who has never been a caregiver before; However It sounds and feels the same when travelling long distances with small children. Thank you for such an insightful post and best of luck with your journey and I hope you find fulfilment in what you are doing. We salute you for the amazing work that you do.

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