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Caring for Your Parents from a Long Distance - Military Style

Praying for Grandpa and Grandma as they travel
One thing that military families know about is long distance communications! We also face long separations from family and find ourselves frequently traveling a long ways to be with family. Sometimes that makes us better at helping others from a long distance too! We know the phone does not always give a clear perspective of what is going on at the other end. So when the phone rang two weeks ago with an almost distraught family member on the other end we knew there was more to come …

We have a large extended family but as the military piece of it we often are/were missed at family gatherings, holidays, special events etc. but one thing for sure the rest of the family knows that we can travel – i.e. road trips are a specialty – no, a core strength actually! My folks reside in Florida due to some health issues and most of the rest of us are in the upper Midwest – IL, MI, IN, MN, OH. So when dad/grandpa/great grandpa had a fall and ended up in the hospital, the call for help went out. Fortunately, one sister was on her way to see them and that covered the first few days in the hospital but she had to be back home soon. She was able to extend her stay despite airline challenges. We were next up …

We were battling health issues ourselves (not unusual for the “sandwich generation”) but the best option for travel was via road trip. Within 3 hours we were on the road with 1300 miles to go. Twenty three hours of driving and one short night stopover and we were there! A guardian angel in the form of a county sheriff did provide a wakeup call to our speedometer reading very early on with no fine involved. Staying on speed became more important and of course we were a bit safer for it.


Celebrating number 87!
So what did we learn about long distance caregiving? Let’s start at the beginning again: Communications. How does your family communicate best? Facebook, twitter, phone, text…? We found that it was hard to keep everyone informed while on the road and the best person to forward data was on scene but a point of contact is critical. Who coordinates for care? Who talks to the doctors, staff, social workers? How much information can you share? We decided to use Facebook private message with medical information to siblings who could share with others if they wanted. Phone calls were always available but Facebook was a time saver. We taught mom/grandma/great grandma how to use her cell phone, voice mail, etc! Right, she did not know how to use it and it helped after some coaching that she did.

A short hospital stay and then rehab in a nursing home center adjacent to hospital was the next challenge. Have a family member check the medications! A critical step as we found several mistakes! When was the last time you visited a nursing home? Do you know their strengths? Staffing? We found a resource in a social worker was invaluable. The care team had a meeting for the incoming patient that a family member could attend which was very beneficial. What are the rules for visitors, etc. Who reviews medications, helps with therapy, etc? We bounced against a lack of information frequently. Meet the doctor(s) when they show up if scheduled. Call their office to find out when they will be there so you can share information. Physical therapy was interesting. Try telling an almost 88 year old that you have scheduled more than 2 hours of therapy in one afternoon. I was incredulous and so was the patient who promptly said “no”. Talk to them, you probably know the patient’s strengths, weaknesses and personality so you can help.

Col K
What about home care? Is the senior’s home ready for a walker, wheel chair, trip hazards identified? An occupational therapist specializes in this type of review and is covered by Medicare and Tricare!  (Did you realize that Tricare is based on Medicare rates and services?) So is home nursing care! Due to previous personal experience with Tricare, we knew that and had a better understanding of care that can be rendered through Medicare than others. Physical therapy can also be provided at home but I think the institutional version might be more beneficial due to equipment and fewer distractions.

We did our own walk around, finding trip hazards, doing some cleaning, trying to make the home and yard safe and ready for a return. But we know we can not stay so maybe we needed to arrange help?  A friend from many years ago had been cared for by our parents during some tough teen age years and was in Florida.  He volunteered to stay and help!  What a blessing. 

We turned to their church for a possible list of folks that could help and then the social worker. Fortunately, mom/grandma/great grandma is still able to help but this is too much for her. We are still waiting for his arrival at home after a short return to the hospital due to complications. Finding resources is difficult from a distance as we had to return home due to other needs. Next steps…?

We opened conversation about relocation and travel to be closer to family. Telling them that we could not always be there was hard but necessary. So we shall follow up, seeds have been planted for relocation, discussions with family for exactly where and how continue! Planning for these contingencies would seem like a military thing to do but … flexibility is the strength of airpower!  So maybe a checklist of helpful items?  Watch for it!

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1 comment:

  1. Great read. Communication plans are a must! Plenty of good information shared. Thank you for serving our country and being a caring, participating family member; even from afar.

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