‘Sick with stress’: perspectives on airport travel from persons living with dementia and their travel companions

Colleen M. Peterson, Robyn W. Birkeland, Sara Barsel, Tamara L. Statz, Joseph E. Gaugler, Jessica M. Finlay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Persons living with dementia continue to desire and need air travel. This study gives voice to the current lived experiences of persons with dementia and their caregiving travel companions using U.S. airports. Forty-eight persons living with dementia and 176 travel companions shared information about themselves and their airport experiences through a web-survey. Results identified common challenges and ways in which U.S. airports could be improved to better serve persons living with dementia and their travel companions. Anxiety, understanding signs and announcements, and getting lost or separated were primary travel concerns. Participants detailed themes of frustration with security and locating family restrooms or quiet spaces. Many are unaware of the services available to assist travelers. Among other recommendations, participants suggested staff training on hidden disabilities to improve air travel experiences. Results inform ongoing efforts to develop dementia-friendly airports and support continuing independence and quality of life.Points of interest This study surveyed the air travel experiences of persons living with dementia and their travel companions to understand how going through the airport can be made more comfortable for them. Primary concerns voiced by the participants were anxiety and frustration at security, trouble finding their way around the airport, and not enough quiet spaces or family bathrooms. Participants shared that better staff training, hidden disability badges, and more wheelchair or electric cart services could help travelers like them and other persons living with disabilities. Airport updates that reduce noise and add more family bathrooms can make airport travel better for persons living with dementia and their travel companions. This paper shows how persons living with dementia and their travel companions’ could be more comfortable in public spaces like airports if we use their experiences and opinions to make improvements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-254
Number of pages21
JournalDisability and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was presented in part at the annual Gerontological Society of America conference in 2020. The presentation and this research were funded by the Robert L. Kane Endowed Chair in Long-Term Care Fund (internal University of Minnesota funding). Many thanks for the members of the Dementia-Friendly Airports Working Group (DFAWG), an international collaboration of professionals, academics, and volunteers in aging and dementia services and support systems, including present and former dementia care partners, and individuals who are living with dementia. DFAWG members informed the development, assisted in recruitment, and member-checked findings. We are thankful to the study participants, who took time to share their experiences with us.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Dementia
  • air travel
  • cognitive accessibility
  • dementia caregiving
  • mixed methods
  • qualitative


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