Being a Caregiver from Afar
The elderly population is steadily rising, nursing homes, hospitals and other care facilities are full. Private care or assistance is to expensive for many. Home healthcare is fast becoming the only other option for many people. Families are increasingly more spread out, geographically speaking, and providing one on one homecare to an aged loved one is not always realistic. Caring for your elderly family member is hard enough without the unnecessary complication of doing it from a distance.
Even for those trained in the field of healthcare, being a caregiver is quite difficult, stressful and utterly draining to the point of burning out. It's even harder for family members to care for their elderly family member - tends to have a higher emotional and mental toll. And for that family member that does not live in the same city, state, province or country, it can cause feelings of guilt to rise when you realize you can not be there to help or have to depend on a slew of other people to care for them.
Do not despair!, I have good news for you. You can offer excellent care despite being far away.
There is no right way or one 'true' way to give long distance care, as each situation and person involved is unique. Though gathering information and coordinating a number of services is a common thread in all long distance care. As is being flexible and able to learn and change.
Whether you view yourself as the master puppeteer, the guy (or gal) behind the curtain, you can expect your caregiver duties needing organizational, time management and communication skills. While some aspects of care are difficult to check from a distance, such as safety, nutrition and health, getting ready in advance and getting organized can go a long way in helping you to co ordinate the various services of care from distance.
Learn to be a Detective
It takes a village to raise a child and to care for someone. Long distance care is no exception to this. You need to know everything to build a solid plan and know what your resources are, who is in and who is out.
Call out to your inner detective, put your nose to the ground and dig out all the information you need to provide phenomenal long distance care.
Figure out the 'village' to help with care.
You can not offer long distance care on your own or when you do not have a team of people who are a part of it in someway. Family, friends, neighbours, many professionals from medical, legal and financial fields, community resources are there if you need them.
Most caregivers are caregivers due to health related issues to an aged family member. Depending on the issue they will have a few or a lot of medical professionals they deal with, including nurses, aides, doctors, pharmacists and possibly more. Chances are they also have people handing financial and legal aspects of their lives, if not, you'll be expected to take that on as part of your caregiver duties or find someone who will.
Family, friends and neighbours can have roles varying from simply a pair of eyes on the property to regular visiting to assisting with transportation and other aspects of daily living. You may not be able to physically be there as often as you would like, eyes and ears you can trust, does a lot to put the mind at ease.
Identify community resources.
Then use them. Surprisingly many people are aware of various resources but never reach out to them for different reasons. Part of your success in providing care is the team you build around you, your eyes, ears and half the brains. Use them, it helps you in a variety of ways, least of which is easing some of the strain and stress.
There are so many resources, and they seem to grow daily:
- Home healthcare is of the utmost importance if you need help in the personal care area, medications or monitoring of health conditions.
- Aging agencies Many community and volunteer organizations offer companionship, housecleaning, day outings, meals on wheels, transportation help.
- Even local churches and temples offer programs that may help and you do not necessarily have to be a part of their parish or faith, though respecting it is recommended.
- Neighbour groups often have observe and watch type programs in effect geared towards safety and keeping crime down, but letting them know this house has an elderly person in it, who shouldn't be out at night, nor people around at night ... is a helpful pre caution and acts to ease the mind.
Be a know it all.
Know what you need to know or find it. Gather all pertinent information such as financial, medical and legal. Create lists of contact information, community organizations and what services they offer. Take note of medications being taken and include the how much, when and how often. Know what appointments they have, who is coming and going as well as why.
It may feel odd, but really you are arming yourself with the information you need to provide excellent care from a distance.
Communication is the Glue
If all you did was communication with the various parties, you could still be quite successful in providing long distance care. Harder to do, but workable. You can do all the researching, planning and well intentions you want, without communication it is all for naught.
Neighbours - They may not know all the private details but can offer a wealth of help. They might help with rides to and from the appointments, keeping an eye on things, observing behaviours, being a pair of eyes that you need and can trust. Never know they may surprise you and start to visit more often.
Family and Friends - You know you have their support (or not) and can depend on one of them to offer transportation or do a quick check in on the older family member now and then, you may not be able to depend on them for the longer term.
Nurses, Doctors Pharmacists - Have their contact information and give them yours. Keep your information updated as well. If necessary have a signed release of information permission so that you and the care team can speak freely.
Finance Advisor, Lawyer - These individuals should be spoken to at least once every couple of months, or however many times are appropriate. Keep them abreast of new information or choices.
Keep in touch with everyone on and off the care team from neighbours to the professionals. Keep the channels of communication open with all of them ensure they have your updated contact information, use an email as well as a phone.
Master Time Management
There is one thing the world is short of and that is time. Everybody is always trying to find more time whether it is hours in the day, saving minutes and wringing out seconds.
For those families caring for an aged loved one, it is often an intrusion or interruption that affects them in many ways including their professional life, family life and personally. If you manage your time effectively, you will be more productive with the time you do have, you need to become the greatest juggler.
Luckily, in today's society there a plethora of ways to communicate with people. Whether you visit weekly, monthly or yearly you need to plan what you will do on those days and if necessary make appointments ahead of time.
- While conversing visually check the home for cleanliness, signs of neglect, check the refrigerator and cupboards ensuring food is fresh and dishes clean.
- Review the medications lists (that you made ahead of time while organizing everything), make sure that the pills are not only being taken properly and not forgotten about, but that they are the right ones. Contact pharmacist if any concerns.
- Meet with the neighbours and talk to them, listen to their replies and observations. Ask them questions about any safety issues they have seen or behavioural changes.
- Meet with the professional side of the care team, doctors, nurses, pharmacist, lawyers or finance advisors. Take an active part in decision-making. If you visit yearly, now is an excellent time to go over the care plan and make new plans if needed.
- Most importantly, spend time with the family member, do not forget about them during the busy periods of the visit. Do things they enjoy or you enjoy together whether it's indoor or outdoor activities, does not matter, just make it quality time.
To manage time you need to be organized and in the know as they say. Use your time effectively when you do visit.
Don't Forget You.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, being a caregiver is hard work, loads of stress and is emotionally, mentally and physically draining.
You can not offer great care if you're tired or stressed out. You may not make the wisest decisions if you are rushing to just get it done. It is important and prudent that you take care of yourself as well.
You have to recognize your own limits and reach out for help when needed. Take a day or a few to spoil just you. Everyone all around will feel rewarded with a long distance caregiver who is on the ball and doing the best that they can.