Long-distance caring presents challenges

Published 12:11 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

“The phone is my worst enemy. Before I am awake at 6:30 a.m., it begins and then again and again, often 15 times a day. My mother is trying to connect with someone who can reassure her she is Eliza Jane in Rochester,” Rosemary said. “Meanwhile, I am trying to hold down a job and maintain some kind of a home for my husband and teenage son. These responsibilities don’t make it easier to respond caringly to my needy mother who is failing before my very ears, some thousand miles away. Talking is not enough. I cannot be with her, and she would not ‘be caught dead away from New York state.’”

Rosemary is like many caregivers living far from aging parents. She hopes to care for her mother as her mother cared for her, but time, distance and dollars complicate things terribly. The one thing she has learned is you do not have to do it alone. However, you do have to develop excellent management skills. Just as Rosemary manages the details of her own family’s life, she now is working to become a loving manager of things in her mother’s life.

To support frail or memory-impaired family members, both near and far, you must have clear written information about a vast range of personal needs and resources. On a recent visit, Rosemary found her mother was more comfortable revealing her personal records relating to legal, financial, health, social, domestic and religious practices when Rosemary discussed her own files and asked if she could help make sure her mother’s things were in order.

Rosemary has obtained a local phone book from Rochester to help identify and reach appropriate service providers.

She has visited the minister in her mother’s church and personnel in the Rochester Office of Aging and a home-nursing agency that can be her local eyes and ears.

Between her occasional visits, she figures out how her mother is managing her meals, medications and such by following up with the aide who checks in three to four mornings a week as a “friend” dropping by to see if mother needs anything from the store or help hauling the laundry. The first few aides were expelled as “unneeded.” But currently, Marie is working out well.

In the final analysis, good management keeps the loose ends better attended, but caring begins and ends with the heart, so Rosemary takes frequent deep breaths, answers the phone and sends frequent cheery cards. She finds comfort for both herself and her mother by supporting the local Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair each fall (9 a.m. to noon Oct. 15), which provides funds for respite and research.

Peggy Cohn is a retired geriatric-care manager with a background in public-health nursing and degrees in family studies and aging. These stories are drawn from local caregivers of folks with Alzheimer’s disease. All caregivers and their families are anonymous to protect their privacy and dignity.