I returned from holidays to learn we had several new clients, many of which were initiated by out-of-town family caregivers.
Statistically, 22 per cent of family caregivers provide care to aging loved ones long distance. Many out-of-town adult children are taken aback to see how much a parent has declined mentally, physically or emotionally from their last visit.
Families who only come together over the holidays often capitalize on the opportunity to discuss future care needs. Many families come face to face with the realities of distance caregiving.
It can be quite the ride — guilt for not doing enough or for not being there, sadness in accepting our aging loved one's decline, anxiety and stress of frequent and unpredictable travel and fear of the unknown.
However, caregiving can work across distances. The key is to plan ahead and be organized. Here are some tips to make distance caregiving more manageable:
Talk First, Act Later: Before jumping in and getting too involved with researching what help is available, start with an evaluation of your aging loved one's situation.
Collect information, be it during a visit or over the phone. Find out what's been done by in town family, friends and community health professionals. Talk about future care and housing options.
Learn everything you can about your loved one's disease or disability. This becomes the backbone of your care plan.
Build a Team that Works: Find out who is in regular contact with the person being cared for and ask them to be part of the care team.
Your team will include other family members and sibling, neighbours, close friends, community care providers, to name a few. Be clear in advance on what type of care and help is needed and assign everyone tasks best suited to their skills, availability and willingness.
Co-ordinating who is doing what and when is critical as it can be overwhelming and confusing for the care recipient to juggle many visits and calls.
Get to Know the Locals: Build in time to research what programs and supports are available in the community.
Ask your local care team members to make inquiries, collect brochures and visit seniors' centres, etc. Find a copy of the local phone directory or web directory and keep track of the who, what, when and whys related to community resources and services. Patience and persistence are a must to navigate a health care system from afar!
Keep Everyone In the Loop: Long-distance caregivers often feel left out of decisions or get information second hand. Finding a way to stay current and connected can help prevent family feuds and allow everyone to know and understand the options.
Designate one person as a primary contact person. A case manager or eldercare planner can also serve as the caregiver's point person. Use an online calendar and task system such as Google Calendar that your care team can access and receive updates.
Know Your Limits, Care Within It: It's easy to get absorbed in your aging loved one's care. Don't forget about your own life plan.
Define your limits of what you are prepared and able to do. This will help you see more clearly what is needed and what is realistic for you to provide.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.