March 28th, 2011 at 10:30 am
Bookmark and Share

Out of sight but not out of mind: the challenge of long distance elder care

by Mary Price

Sooner rather than later, my sister and I must force a life decision on our 85-year old mother. My sister and I have always been the children who have reliably visited (when we lived in the same country), called, taken an interest and supplemented Mom’s income as and when required. Even though we now live abroad, we still speak to her at least five days a week. My sister visited Mom last year. I have not seen her since October 2008. International travel is expensive, particularly with a family. “What should we do with Mom?” has become a regular topic of conversation between my sister and me. That, and how guilty we feel because we cannot currently participate actively in her care.

Mom is mentally as sharp as ever. However, she suffers from diabetes, is overweight as a result, and her knees aren’t what they used to be. She can still drive, although she prefers not to, and she is active in a number of local clubs. Two cousins and an aunt have taken it upon themselves to visit and communicate with her regularly. Unfortunately, they don’t speak to each other, and that brings a whole host of other challenges and tension to the ongoing question around, “What should we do with Mom?”

  1. Should she stay in her own home with appropriate support (daily help and emergency alarm)?
  2. Should she go into a nursing home (she won’t even consider this)?
  3. Should she go into assisted living accommodation (Mom hates the idea of leaving the home my father renovated)?
  4. Should she go to live with our cousin (the offer is there, but Mom won’t do it)?
  5. Should she move abroad and live with my sister or me (medical care would be prohibitively expensive and she would lose contact with all her friends)?
  6. Should we leave our jobs and move back to be near her (impossible, but we have thought about it)?

Understanding what Mom needs

Mom does not make it any easier. Her moods swing from depressed when she is alone for an extended period, through anger when someone has offended her or let her down, to elation when one of our relatives stays with her or she’s had a particularly good social week. When someone is around she is never depressed, ill or bothered by her diabetes, which she controls very well for the most part. However, when she is alone for more than a couple of days all she becomes very difficult to deal with.  She claims to be ill, in pain and in need of immediate medical care. Miraculously, the symptoms disappear when someone drives over in the middle of the night, takes a day off work or puts the rest of their life on hold to go and stay with her. Unfortunately, each time this happens, they become less likely to believe she needs immediate attention next time.

Of course, we are terrified that one time she really WILL be sick and need of medical care.  It has become nearly impossible to assess whether her needs are health-related and critical or a result of being lonely.  It breaks my heart to put it like that because, of course, being lonely is just as critical in its own way, and we are sure that is the main issue. It’s just that loneliness is not immediately life threatening.

What should we do with Mom? She is finally ready to consider assisted living or moving abroad to live with us but neither will happen overnight. In the meantime, we have to continue to “care” for her by proxy. We live in the knowledge and guilt that she is desperately lonely — and in constant fear of a long distant telephone call that would force us into the very worst visit imaginable.

Posted in Caregiving, Support | 1 Comment »
Tags: , ,

One Response to “Out of sight but not out of mind: the challenge of long distance elder care”

  1. Wayne Caswell

    The right technology might help. Tell me what you think about the site and what you end up deciding for your mom.

Leave a Reply