I participated in a webinar last week that addressed the subject matter of long distance caregiving. As an individual who lived 5000 kms away from my parents for many years, I can certainly attest to some of the very difficult scenarios my sister and I used to deal with via long distance calls, instant messaging, and emails. Thankfully she lived relatively close to my parents and we easily settled into our roles of Planner/Researcher/Advisor and the Executioner. Now I am only 2 hours away by vehicle and it is a far more manageable situation. Here is some advice for long distance caregivers.
There is no single “right way” to be a caregiver; there are many possibilities. Think of it as a journey, and evolve as you move along. Navigation is generally more important than speed -spending time at the beginning to understand your situation and your options, will serve you better than rushing into action without a plan.
Conditions change along the way and your caregiving strategies will shift accordingly. Most of all, you will need to stay in good condition yourself for the long run. If there are any rules to keep in mind, it is “Take care of yourself”. I suggest that you take some time and do some research and reading on the subject of “Self-Care for Family Caregivers”. There are many resources that offer suggestions about managing stress, setting goals, seeking solutions, communicating constructively and asking for and accepting help.
Knowledge and confidence will come a little at a time, although true progress by your definition may be elusive on occasion. Eventually you will sort out the challenges and find the solutions. Get the support you need because it is unreasonable to expect to “go it alone.” As much as possible, involve the one who needs care in the decision-making process. Respect his or her expressed values and preferences, even when these differ from yours, as their desires will provide some parameters for the plan of action.
The earlier the first family meeting can occur, the better. Each person involved in your loved one’s care will benefit by having a common understanding of goals and tasks. Do not delay setting up a meeting simply because you cannot get everyone that you think should be included to participate. Do what you can as soon as you can, making sure that the family member needing care participates as much as possible in all decision-making. The point of the first family meeting is to clarify goals and responsibilities, as well as air feelings and ask for support. Your family meeting can take place in person, by e-mail, in a private web chat room, through a telephone conference call or with a combination of these.
So who is on your Team? You live far away. Other folks who reside closer to your loved one, such as the neighbour who “keeps an eye out”, are possible team candidates. Ask yourself, “Who is in regular contact with my loved one?” Possibilities include: nearby siblings, other family members, close friends, or people your loved one sees frequently, such as clergy or a housekeeper or even professionals with longstanding relationships. These individuals can serve as your eyes, ears, and hands on team members.
Stay tuned until next week when some additional hints for long distance caregiving will be provided. In the interim, breathe deep and remember Rome was not built in a day.