If you look forward to a yearly vacation, there were ways to savor it, whether you take your parent with you or create the right support system at home to give you peace of mind.
It’s the time of year families start to plan their vacations. A stumbling block for many is what to do about Grandma when she seems to need more and more attention and care. Or, the question comes up, “How do we plan a vacation and take Grandpa with us?”
These questions spring up especially if there has been a change of status in the past year and the adult children have had to increase their level of attention and care to the aging family member.
Having a healthy balance in life means it is important to still focus on the activities and events that give your life meaning while you are caring for another. That backpacking trip you have been planning in the Rockies for the past 3 years or that high school reunion on the East Coast that you have been counting on attending don’t have to be taken off the calendar. It is actually important for you to care for yourself by attending special events or sticking to your vacation plans when caring for or overseeing an elder’s care. If you do balance caregiving with self-care you are less likely to suffer from depression, burnout or just frustration.
As Professional Geriatric Care Managers the one emotion that we hear from family members when a caregiver plans to take a trip or attend an event without the elder is guilt. We often hear, “How can I go away when Mom needs me?” or “I am the only one. There is no one else she trusts.” My reply is if you don’t care for yourself, just like a battery needing to be recharged, you will run out of energy, feel resentment and care out of obligation, frustration or anger instead of from a place of love. These feelings also end in feeling guilty and this could affect your sense of self and your health.
We recommend that, if the elder is frail and can be left at home, a system of checks and balances be set in place. Professional Geriatric Care Managers often act as substitute family when the adult child is traveling and can provide peace of mind that the adult child and elder need for the “what if’s of longer lives.” At Eldercare Services, we provide short-term Care Management when family is out of town—checking on the elder, providing some personal assistants for care as needed and reassurance of having a skilled professional to respond 24/7 to any emergency.
When one of our clients needs our oversight, we alert all of the professionals on our team (20 of us with backgrounds in social work, counseling, nursing or gerontology) where the family member can be reached and what the plan of care is, should there be a change in status. Depending on where the family is we will reach them or act in their absence, as planned before the trip, if there is a crisis. Often families use us for 24/7 live-in care for a parent while they are gone, though sometimes only a weekly check-in by a Care Manager is needed depending on the client’s need and the professional’s recommended plan of oversight.
If you plan on taking an elder with you on vacation we would recommend a consultation with a Care Manager to assist you with all the precautions you will need to take and prepare everyone for the possible bumps in the plan or the need to reduce the pace of the trip to accommodate an older person’s energy or physical needs. If you are traveling by air and need special considerations, plan to alert the airline beforehand.
Elders often tire easily. Touring and outings should be planned according to their energy level at home. For those with changing mental status due to a progressive dementia, changes in environment can increase the confusion and add to anxiety. You might try a short trip to a local destination to see how your family member does out of their environment before trying a longer trip—this way you can always get in the car and return home. If you are in Europe or on a cruise, it can be overwhelming to try to calm someone with a dementia who becomes anxious.
Travel can be fun and renewing and, if vacations have been part of your life for years, it can be crucial to survival of the caregiver. If this is a value of yours, keep it in your life knowing there are support resources in the community, such as Eldercare Services, to oversee your parent and give you peace of mind.
If traveling with aging parents is your desire, take some time with a professional to learn how to make it work and be realistic with your expectations so that no one is disappointed.
Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, is the Founder and Executive Director of Eldercare Services, a pioneer in the unique delivery of services, providing counseling, geriatric care management, family support groups, classes and direct caregiving with offices in Walnut Creek, Marin, Oakland and San Francisco, California. For further information regarding their services, visit Eldercare Services on the web at: www.EldercareAnswers.com