Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Care Partner Wednesday--When Family Lives Far Away

We call it the "daughter from Florida syndrome" where I work. This is not to disparage daughters, and is certainly not about Florida (one of my favourite places in the world!) It's a known fact that most care partners are women, and Florida is far from where I live. Hence the name.

Just to make sure I make me point and don't offend anyone, imagine a family member of either sex arriving from out of town for a week to visit their loved one who is in care. Almost before their suitcases hit the ground, they begin to find fault. Soon there is a list, and staff members scurrying to fix, explain and follow up. Review the medications, change the mattress, get a different hairdo. "The laundry destroyed her socks, and why isn't my mother up, it's after ten o'clock?"

At the end of the week, the family-member-from-out-of-town leaves, and the staff collectively sighs with relief. Whew. Until next time.

Let me qualify what I'm saying with this:

Not all out-of-town family members are like this. I'm sure you aren't. But over the years, we've seen more than a few.

I have been "the daughter from Florida." But that's a story for another day.

Having a family member in care when you aren't there is difficult, heart-wrenching and sometimes confusing. You wonder what is really happening, and you worry. Perhaps you get a disturbing phone call from your loved one, and you struggle with how much to believe.

Here are some thoughts as you visit your loved one:

1) If you have a sibling who lives in town and handles most issues--tread carefully. If you say this or that is wrong, it is easy for them to feel you are criticising the job they of doing of caring for your loved one. Make sure you discuss issues with them, and do it in a non-threatening way.

2) Establish relationships. Get to know your loved one's nurses and care partners. Thank them for the job they are doing. A small "thank you" in the form of a fruit basket or other treats means so much to those who work hard every day.

3) Find someone (possibly a nurse, but even better might be a team leader, activation staff, or any staff member who stays in touch with families. Ask if you could email them every two weeks to get a feel for what your mother is doing. (Make sure it's not more often, although it might be tempting.) You could also send pictures of your family events, and the right person might send some back to you.)

4) Ask questions, and then listen. Sometimes an issue is only an issue because you don't have the whole story. Perhaps the socks needed to be replaced, the hairdo is the one Mom asked for and she's in bed because she wanted to sleep in this morning. Not everything is a negative.

5) On the other hand, if you believe you have a serious issue, go to the top with it. Make sure to involve your siblings in town (if they exist) but ask to speak to the nurse, the doctor or the Director of Care. Keep talking and listening and asking questions until you are satisfied.

6) Use technology. Is there a family member or friend who could bring in a laptop or tablet once a week? All it takes is the wifi password and an arranged time, and you are Skyping with your loved one. I see this more and more, and it's lovely to see the delight on the elder's face as their daughter-from-out-of-town appears on the screen. Set this up while you are visiting and enjoy it when you go home.

All of these tips have one goal: to bring you closer to your loved one. As problems are solved, relationships fostered and technology used, you can connect to the one you love.

Which is what it's all about.

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