Repatriating someone with dementia

If you follow the news, you may have read that dementia rates are on the rise.

An estimated 55 million people suffer from the condition around the world – but that figure is expected to increase substantially over the next few years. By 2050, the World Health Organisation thinks the total number of dementia sufferers will be closer to 139 million.

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For anyone who lives a long distance away from elderly relatives, these are concerning statistics. From experience we know that when people contract dementia overseas, it often causes significant challenges for their wider families – particularly when it comes to the difficult decision of whether to bring them back home.

Why dementia is such a problem for international families

One of the big issues with dementia is that it’s a progressive condition. This means that, although the symptoms are often mild or barely noticeable at first – and typically develop slowly – they gradually worsen over time. Early-stage symptoms of dementia include mild forgetfulness and changes of mood or emotion, for example. Middle-stage symptoms, however, can be significantly more disruptive and distressing; they include:

  • difficulty recognising family or close friends
  • becoming confused about the location or time of day
  • starting to believe things that aren’t true (delusions)
  • seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)*

As their condition deteriorates, patients can also find themselves losing linguistic skills, falling back on their mother tongue, or mentally retreating to the places and surroundings they remember from their childhood – all of which present problems when they are living in a foreign country.

The issue for families living overseas – i.e., people who are not seeing each other day to day – is that it can be very difficult to know when a loved one’s condition is moving from that initial mild stage to something more serious.

The second major problem is that, when people are suffering serious dementia-related symptoms, they often won’t be deemed “fit to fly” on a regular airline. So they end up stuck, thousands of miles from their loved ones, consigned to the care of local social services – which may be inadequate, difficult or impossible to communicate with, or extremely expensive. To make things even more complicated, they often lose the ability to speak the local-country language as well.

Two common scenarios

A typical situation might go like this: Person A has an elderly mother and father who retired to Spain some time ago. Recently, however, the father’s health has deteriorated significantly. The mother says he has begun to forget who she is, and on occasion has even been aggressive towards her. She tells Person A she can no longer cope with him on her own.

Another scenario goes like this: Person B has a relative who has lived in Thailand for 30 years. They’ve stayed in touch, but only loosely. Now, however, Person B has just received a call from a friend in Thailand. The friend says his relative has been taken to hospital. She was found wandering in the city, distressed and unable to get home. Person B had no idea his relative was suffering from dementia.

How EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation can help

Dementia frequently leaves overseas families feeling helpless. It’s impossible to manage a loved one’s condition when you’re a 12-hour flight away. You may not be able to determine whether they’re getting adequate care as you plan the next steps. And, meanwhile, the airlines are telling you it’s not appropriate – or legal – for them to take a flight (even if you fly out to help them). It’s a recipe for stress and heartache.

The good news, however, is that there’s a lot we can do to step into this type of situation and get your loved one home.

When you call EMS, the first thing our experts will do is establish the key details: where is your relative right now? What’s their current state of mind and medical situation? Who is their main contact on the ground – and do you have a medical or care home contact for them?

Once we’ve fleshed out the detail and had your go-ahead, we can take over everything that follows. That means the following:

Liaising with the medics

If your patient is in a clinic, hospital or care home, we’ll make contact with their carers, discuss their current situation and make arrangements to come and collect them

Solving language problems

Families sometimes struggle to communicate with their patient’s carers because they don’t speak their own language, or English. EMS has a wide range of languages on the team, and we can also arrange interpreters through our translation service if necessary

Arranging the transport

We’ll work out the best way to get your patient home. If their condition is mild or moderate, we may be able to secure clearance on a regular commercial airline with a Medical Escort, or in a specially-commissioned Road Ambulance. If not, we can arrange to fly them out with our Air Ambulance service, on a private jet with advanced patient support

Providing the right care

We’ll make sure your loved one gets the right support while the journey is underway. Alongside a doctor or paramedic (or even a team of medics), that might include things like:

  • sedation to help them stay calm during the transport
  • administering any medicines they need while they travel
  • support with toileting if they are struggling with incontinence
  • providing room for you (or even your whole family) to travel alongside them
  • making things as comfortable as possible during the journey (for instance, if your patient is travelling by commercial long-haul, by creating a bed area on their flight)
  • complete bed-to-bed care from collection to destination
  • if necessary, a dementia specialist to look after them

We can also liaise with the care home in your home country – and of course we’ll keep you regularly updated on our progress once the journey is underway. Whatever your patient needs, and whatever we can do to reassure you, we’ll be there to help you every step of the way.

* For more detail, see
Alzheimer’s Society

Interested in reading more on this topic? You might find this article helpful!

Multidisciplinary care for elderly patients: why it’s better to go home for treatment

Contact us

Need to talk? We’re here to help. Just get in touch with our friendly experts by phone, email or WhatsApp. Head to our Contact page for the details. You can also get a free, no-obligation cost estimate for your repatriation with our online pricing calculator.

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