Long Distance Daughter: Finding Comfort in Her Dad’s Professional Surrogate

As primary caregiver, Wendy Levine understands the stresses of caring for an aging parent.

DE Landscape 08: Tiergarten Old CoupleThe big challenge: she lives in Massachusetts, almost 1,500 miles from her father who lives in Minnesota. You can imagine the difficulties and stress in wondering how to manage this long-distance role. As the Baby Boomer generation becomes adult children they also become caregivers of their parents —and it isn’t easy. Frustrating as it is, if done with the right support it can also be rewarding. Parents like Levine’s father may be aging, but the manner in which they age can make all the difference in having peace of mind for both the parent and adult child.

Mike Broms, Levine’s father, is a very energetic man and determined to remain independent. When he suffered his first fall he was living in an independent living apartment. Levine flew out from Massachusetts to help make sure her father was properly taken care of and felt secure. For Levine, it was devastating not being there immediately when her father needed her. The second time Mike fell, he was dehydrated, wasn’t eating well or caring for himself to the best of his ability. Traveling to and from Minnesota isn’t easy and quickly became expensive. According to Levine, it’s difficult to hear that your father isn’t taking care of himself, being so far away, there was little she could do.

“You have to honor their wishes, and let them live independently for as long as possible,” added Levine. “It’s his life, he should live it as he wants, and it’s hard for me worrying so much because I love him.” Living miles away from her dad made things difficult and emotional for Levine. Eventually, the constant stress of worrying about her dad while trying to live her own life took a significant toll on her. Mike was also stubborn. Each time he fell he refused to call for help. By the time staff reached him they would call 911 and again he was hospitalized. Several trips to the emergency room can add up quickly for people trying to keep an eye on their retirement and tight finances. Who wants to spend money they’ve saved all their life for their golden years on ER visits or costly medications?

Levine knew it was time for Mike to move out of his independent living apartment and find a suitable assisted living community where he would have added care and support. “Knowing how active my Dad is, I was worried he would feel threatened by this new situation for fear his independence and control would be taken away from him,” recalled Levine.

Mike moved to Parkshore Senior Campus, a SilverCrest Property that partners with Lifesprk. “We were at a crisis point and needed to make a decision quickly. The staff was warm and encouraging, making me feel good about the decision I was faced with,” said Levine. Adult children often feel guilty about moving their parents to an assisted living facility or nursing home. They feel it’s their role to care for their parents as their parents once did for them. “The staff understood my concerns and feelings and reassured me that I was looking out for my father’s interest and welfare and doing the best I could for him. This option really was the best scenario, I just needed someone to help me see that, and they did just that,” said Levine.

The Lifesprk Experience™ was a new concept to Levine who has done her research on care options for her father. “This was the first time anyone had ever talked about Life Care,” added Levine. Lifesprk presented Wendy and her father with their philosophy on care –proactive, preventive guidance that helps people create pathways to living more meaningful lives. A dedicated Life Care Manager (registered nurse) is trained to help clients discover their priorities and outline goals to achieve success. Because each client is different, the plan is uniquely tailored to the individual. Services and support are on Mike’s terms, not anyone else’s – not even Levine’s. “I agreed with this mentality. My father worked hard his entire life. It wasn’t up to me to tell him how to spend his money at this point. My main goal is that he’s happy and well cared for. That gives me peace of mind living so far away,” said Levine. “I was happy about the flexibility of care and how the admissions people broke down the menu of services without pressure. Options were available, wonderful options, but I could add or remove them as I, or my father, saw fit. That was important.”

Levine recalled the moment where she truly understood the difference an LCM can make. “The day we moved him in, the building staff was trying to tell me that he needed to be escorted to his meals each day because he was weak and had the recent falls. I certainly didn’t believe them, I knew his capability and having an escort would push him deeper into depression if this is how life would now be for him,” said Levine. Mike’s LCM Lisa Nelson stepped in and said they would help him find his way around the building so he’s comfortable knowing where to go and if he’s able, he will physically walk there. The Lifesprk philosophy at its core is about sparking lives. If Levine’s father wanted to walk and could, then he should. If he can’t, there’s help and assistance available. “At that moment I knew this is where he belonged. Lifesprk gets it; they let my Dad be himself. They encourage him to keep moving when so many others were afraid of him hurting himself or thinking it was easier if they did it for him. Others overlooked the key point that my father was still alive inside, his faculties were all intact, and he needed and wanted to remain in control. Lifesprk gave him that back.”

Life Care Managers provide support and guidance across all seven elements of living well – from health and wellness to social support, identity and purpose and passion. They get to know their clients’ routines, sometimes even better than their clients’ children, and alleviate simple health issues before they manifest into something bigger which often happens even when someone regularly sees their physician or has vigilant adult children who live nearby. Lifesprk helps keep them out of the hospital and living where they prefer. With eyes on their clients at all the times, LCMs main role is to provide the care and support for the client to keep them at their optimal health. Even more, they discover what motivates them and create ways to cultivate their spirit.

Aging doesn’t mean giving up, it means redefining living so it makes sense and is comfortable for each client. As Levine saw in her own father, after he became a Lifesprk client, he was “chatty again” and really enjoys being active and walking around talking to people. When she left for home after her dad was settled Levine felt relieved. “They have their eyes on him all the time, I know his care is very good,” said Levine. “It’s more than that though that brings me the greatest comfort. His Life Care Manager encourages him to do everything he can and that makes me feel proud.” Levine added, “It’s the next best thing to me being there and caring for him myself. Lisa is his professional surrogate while I remain his long-distance daughter. For me, my life can continue knowing my Dad is still living life according to his wishes.”

For others who are also caring for aging parents, how are you helping them seek the spark while managing your own time? What has helped?