Caring for loved ones from afar
In today’s world, the reality of caregiving is that many family members have moved away from their childhood homes, often times more than several hours away. This creates a new level of independence for those who move away, but it can turn into a burden when it comes time to care for mom or dad.
As with all problems, it is important to identify if the situation is actually problematic, and what are the specific areas that may need attention. For example, mom lives 500 miles from you. You visit as often as you can, but that boils down to mostly holidays and a few visits in between. On a few recent visits, you have noticed mom having an unusual odor about her, different from her normal sweet perfume smell. You let it go but with each visit it seems to be progressively stronger.
What can you do? Identifying the problem is the first step. In this case, it could be that mom is not bathing as much because the shower or tub is just too difficult for her to manage. Another problem might be nutrition. Although mom eats well when you are there, you notice that her refrigerator is poorly stocked. Mom might be afraid to drive to the store, or she may be developing some signs of dementia.
Once an area of concern is identified, support systems must be put into place to correct the problem. If mom is not bathing regularly, a new, easier walk-in shower tub could be installed. Or a caregiver could be hired for a couple of hours per day, every other day, to ensure mom’s safety while using the current tub. Other sources for support for long distance caregivers might include geriatric care managers, friends and neighbors, home care agencies, doctors, relatives who might live closer, support groups (i.e., Alzheimer’s), etc.
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It’s also be helpful to increase the number of contacts with Mom. Several options are now available thanks to increasing technology. First, the good old telephone is still the easiest form of staying in touch. Increase the number of calls you make to Mom. Include your kids in the calls. Use computer webcams. I know it may seem daunting for some people to use this technology, but once in place, it works great, and this allows everyone to see each other — next best thing to being there in person. Write more letters or cards. My experience tells me that people still love receiving something other than a bill in the mail.
Try and become more efficient in your efforts to care for Mom from so far away. Get organized and make doctor’s visits and other appointments for the time you are there. Talk about home care options, such as friends and neighbors stopping by regularly, the use of a home care agency from time-to-time, or the eventual need to have more serious care if mom were to fall or become ill. Don’t wear her out, but do make the most of your time when you are together. And make sure that you offer support after you leave.
Finally, it may be necessary to discuss placement into a facility or a relative’s home. These are very difficult discussions and may best be handled by a professional. Once the initial ground has been broken, mom may be more willing to talk with a geriatric care manager, social worker or admissions director at a facility.
Take your time with this. Don’t push a loved one into anything they are not ready for, but keep the dialogue open to the possibilities of alternative living. I have found that if that discussion is handled well before the actual need arises, people are usually much more willing to see it as their idea and not something forced upon them by their kids.
Family members have the right to be concerned about their loved one’s nutrition, overall health and general safety. Living more than several hours away simply amplifies those concerns. Acknowledging the potential issues, discussing them when appropriate and coming up with a game plan will definitely help to reduce the stress for all involved when it comes to being a long-distance caregiver.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle, Garfield and Routt Counties. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.