After being here with me in Florida for the last four years, my mom recently went back home to Illinois. I have turned my primary role as caregiver over to my very competent sister. I started thinking about this change and wanted to come up with some pointers to help those of you who are in roles of being on the long-distance side of the equation. They fall into the “wish I knew then what I know now” category of life lessons. I hope you find them helpful.
TEN RULES FOR EFFECTIVE LONG DISTANCE CAREGIVING :
1. Establish who ( family members , neighbors, etc) will make up the caregiving team? Determine roles. It takes a village and there are many ways to help from afar. This can include being the one who pays the bills, deals with insurance, or sends weekly greeting cards. Don’t forget the personal phone call to mom, that's often magic.
2. Make certain all members of the team are scripting the same message in talking to mom about sensitive issues, especially if Dementia is involved. If the message is simple, if all members practice speaking with fewer words that yield a simple effective message, confusion will be reduced.
3. All members of the caregiving team, learn the chain of command, if mom is living in a Senior Living Community ( all levels of care ). Route your questions to the contact person who is in charge of quality of care within the caregiving team. This creates “one message “ and lessens fragmented communication.
4. There will be differences of opinions of the caregiving team. Allow those opinions to be voiced before they become actual issues. Establish a conference call or email trail routine and have one person take role of facilitating the time together. Create the agenda ahead of time, so there are no surprises. Consider a geriatric care manager if finances allow, to help be neutral if ongoing issues can't be solved and relationships are being compromised.
5. Education is power. Establish that the care planning team will be educated as to mom’s chronic illnesses, if present. When change occurs, all members are ready and have already talked about “what ifs”.
6. Learn to say up front, “how can I help?”. It is hard to be far away, but the message of “I will help and support” is appreciated.
7. Accept that the primary caregiver will on the front line of care. Never assume you know “how it is”. Be ready for an implied “you will never know”. That is correct.
8.Refrain from giving advice unless asked by the primary caregiver because of #6 and #7 above. When asked, start all advice with I statements, ”I feel like ---“ it is my opinion” etc, so boundaries are set on what your window allows you to see.
9. Plan on regular visits to mom and primary caregiver, if finances allow. Plan this schedule in advance and as often as you can. Well deserved breaks are in order, and long distance caregivers need to be on the front line too when they can, not when they are called on.
10. Relax and know that in looking into the crystal ball from afar, that mom is lucky to have a team who cares, that you have done the best you could and so are others. Hindsight is always more reliable than foresight as you think about the future. Realize that caregiving, its joys, its challenges and its incredible journey is about another human being, but it also is about you. Don’t forget that.
About Nancy Hobson
Nancy Hobson is an RN, NHA and Director of Caregiving Services for the Friendship Centers. She's based at the Friendship Centers on Brother Geenen Way in Sarasota and recently spoke at the Conference for Positive Aging.
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