|An Ocean Apart|
by Kathleen Doherty, Co-Chair
There are some 75 million Baby Boomers and 10 million have become involved in the activities and responsibilities associated with caring for an older parent. Expatriate Americans now number around 4 million, and the number of us who are long distance caregivers is unknown. I meet people every week who have parents living in a different country, and I'm struck by some of the stories I hear. Caring for our aging parents or other elderly relatives can begin slowly or can come about suddenly after an illness or accident. We may be fortunate to have siblings in our home country, or unfortunate that they may not live close to our parents in the old home town.
If you browse the internet and use words such as 'long distance care giving' and 'caring from a distance' and 'elder care' or 'services for the elderly,' you'll find a wellspring of information and an explosion of sites offering articles on care options, housing choices, and the legal and financial aspects of care giving. There are supportive and informative chat rooms at sites such as www.aarp.com and the 'Seniors Forum' and 'Family Forum' at www.compuserve.com/communities . An on-line site that I visit is www.eldercareteam.com
There are sites marketing care-related products such as emergency response systems, medical equipment, and private home care services. With the advent of nurses and social workers in private practice, there is a new profession being trained and marketed: geriatric care coaching. I have a nurse friend who offers her geriatric consulting services as 'rent a relative.'
How do you know if a parent needs help? Some changes happen so gradually that they go unnoticed. Miscommunication can lead to frustration and anger. It can be difficult for parents to ask adult children for help - after all, parents help children, not the other way around. If you are in the information gathering stage, just beginning to become aware that your parents are having more health concerns, do start to organize. If you are noticing changes and are worried about the well being of a parent, the time to organize is this moment.
Even with the challenges that accompany caring from a distance, there are ways to maintain peace of mind. Like so many others, I am caring for my elderly mother in the USA while living abroad. A sudden serious illness had her in and out of hospital, rehab, and nursing home for 10 months. She's been back living on her own in Senior Housing for just over two years, and I've been care-commuting every 3 or 4 months. Next week my mother will have surgery for a malignancy. I've talked to her every day this week. She already has a home health agency in place, so her home visits will increase and I've asked that physical therapy be added post operatively for a few weeks. As soon as school ends and I have a summer holiday, I'll care-commute to Boston.
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