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My Demented Dad: the struggle in trying to take a holiday

Carers are always being told to look after themselves.

‘If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to be able to take care of someone else?’ is the oft repeated mantra.

So with that in mind I booked a short break to visit friends in Italy last November. I also took out insurance which was just as well because this was the very week that Dad was rushed into hospital.

I made a claim and, with the help of Dad’s very accommodating doctor who filled in a lengthy medical declaration form, I got (most of) my money back.

Now that Dad is back on an even keel, I thought I would try to reinstate my visit – notwithstanding the Pope’s recent resignation and that the whole world is heading for Rome. If not to see the Pope then for the Rugby.

Before I booked my flight I checked with my insurance company whether I’d be covered, just in case Dad had another bout of diverticulitis.  I already knew the answer. If it’s a pre-existing condition (that’s to say, if he’s had it before) then no, I would not be covered for cancellation or curtailment if Dad was taken ill again.

It occurred to me to wonder what other carers did about travel insurance. Those people looking after someone with Parkinson’s or MS or dementia – the chronic conditions which don’t in themselves cause you to be ‘ill’ but where there is a likelihood of illness because of compromised immunity, poor balance, reduced mobility and so on.

You could just risk it, go on holiday and hope for the best. The person you care for may not be unwell, or they may be ill with something new, in which case you’d be covered. But it is a risk and the further ahead you book the trip – to get the best fares – the more time there is for something to go wrong.

So the obvious thing is to find an insurance company prepared to say that, despite the person having a chronic illness, if you, the carer, are prepared to book a trip away they can’t be that poorly - otherwise you wouldn’t be thinking of leaving them.

The British Insurance Brokers Association (Biba), which represents 2,000 regulated firms, very helpfully sent an email to all of their members and came back with four companies who claimed they would take me on.

Each of the four had different conditions. One would cover the diverticulitis, but exclude Alzheimer’s. So how does that work?  If Dad fell out of bed and broke his leg would they say that was because of his dementia and refuse to pay out if I had to cancel my trip?

One said that if I could provide a letter from a GP which said that, at the time of my booking the trip, Dad was in good health and there was no expectation of him being ill, they would give me cover. I rather feel that Dad’s GP has more pressing things to do than write letters and, in the case of many GPs who are prepared to find the time, they will charge a fee for this, so that adds to the cost.

Others put me through a lengthy medical screening questionnaire at premium call rates. And then declined me.

One company was considering a specialist insurance for carers that would be based on the percentage of the cost of the trip.

I suspect most carers aren’t planning expensive trips to the other side of the world.  I imagine they mostly want a long weekend somewhere a bit warmer, or to visit friends or family in Europe. Or even to just get away to somewhere else in the UK. But all of these things cost, and if you have to cancel or curtail your trip it is reasonable to want to be able to get at least some of your money back.

The Glasgow South East Carers Centre (part of the Princess Royal Trust),my source of so much useful information and help, suggested I post a message on their website discussion board and asked if I had tried calling Age UK?

I posted a message on the website but got little response. I don’t think people ordinarily volunteer that they are caring for someone, especially if they are also doing a ‘proper’ job. They either don’t go on holiday or they take the risk that nothing will happen and then if it does they bear the cost.

By now I was rather fed up with talking to insurance call centres but I nevertheless rang Age UK, took a deep breath and went through it all again.  And then, Hallelujah! Someone said ‘Yes.’

‘As long as your Dad is not waiting for an operation, hospital consultation, the results of any hospital tests or investigation (other than for regular check-ups for a stable condition) or is waiting for or receiving hospital treatment. And as long as he has not been diagnosed with a terminal illness, we can cover you.’

So they weren’t interested in his Alzheimer’s?

Nope.

Diverticulitis?

Nada.

By now I was too cynical to believe this was true. I phoned Age UK’s Head Office and a charming Scot told me that yes indeed, it was all true and that, er, this is what Age UK is for – to provide help and services to older people; not least things like insurance, financial products and holidays, as well as advice on pretty much anything you can think of.

How come I didn’t know!

The moral of this story is to always remember that your parent isn’t the first person to grow old and become frail; that you aren’t the only soul to be a carer (in fact there are an estimated seven million carers in the UK at any one time) and that it’s very likely there is an organisation chugging along, without much of a budget for marketing and advertising, on your behalf. They are fighting just these sorts of battles, providing information and support and lobbying for things to be improved where they need to be.

Start with your local carers centre, or find someone who’s a bit ahead of you in the caring stakes and ask their advice. You are not alone. It’s all out there; you just have to find it.  Oh, and take that holiday.

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