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Travel Preparations for Caregiving "Snowbirds"
By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

This time of year, many senior "snowbirds" are packing their bags, closing up northern residences and migrating toward senior communities to escape the winterís fury. This yearly tradition is eagerly anticipated, yet amidst the glamour of senior living in the southern states and the usual pastimes of golfing, fishing, card playing, and senior recreation, the "reality" factor of caregiving still remains.
Caregivers and their spouses who head south to travel to winter residences and warmer climates, face additional challenges as they leave behind the familiarity of home, local services and support systems. Providing daily care to a loved one, while preparing to temporarily relocate, demands a great deal of planning and organization before the departure and in the months to follow.

Here are some important strategies to consider prior to embarking on the "snowbird" journey and when arriving at the winter destination:

Caregivers need to assess their own health status as well as the current health and safety needs of the care receiver and decide whether traveling and residing out of state is in their best interests. Yearly consultations are recommended with medical professionals and family members for advice in order to make this important decision.

Check health insurance guidelines and medical coverage, especially emergency clauses, as they pertain to out-of-state medical care. Discuss the need for medical information and prescriptions to be copied or forwarded to the clinic near your winter residence. See your physician and have prescriptions filled prior to leaving.

Consider the importance of pre-planning for health care directives (and funerals). Make copies of pre-plans for yourself, your family and the medical center you will be using in case there is a health crisis or death while you and your loved one are living out of state.

Prepare a travel route including departure and arrival information, maps, rest stops, and planned overnight stays. Provide vehicle identification information and a copy of the travel itinerary to family members.

Carry emergency information in the glove box including health care information (especially for Alzheimerís disease, diabetes, allergies, epilepsy and Parkinsonís disease), medication lists, health insurance and emergency contact numbers.
Plan to carry a cell phone with you at all times in case of an emergency and to stay in touch with others while traveling.

Consider purchasing an ID or Medic Alert bracelet for yourself and for your loved one if there are health issues, safety concerns or memory loss problems. These can be lifesavers in case of a sudden health problem or if a loved one wanders away in unfamiliar surroundings.

Prior to moving, gather information through the Internet or library on the medical and social services available to you near your winter home. These may include home health agencies, caregiver support programs, adult day programs, respite care services, meal programs, or disease-specific organizations. Many of these organizations can be accessed nationwide through toll-free numbers or through the Internet (for example, the Alzheimerís Association, American Cancer Society or the National Parkinsonís Disease Association.)

Plan to build up a "care team of support" at the senior community or RV Park. This team may consist of neighbors, friends, senior park staff, church members and local professionals who can be called upon to assist you with your caregiving or respite care needs during your stay.

Finally, if necessary, seek alternatives such as having a family member travel along, especially if you and your loved one have any medical needs, or consider a shortened stay if the stress of caregiving overrides the enjoyment of being a snowbird. Also, coordinate supportive visits from family members during the winter months.

Spending winters free of snow and cold temperatures is a welcome relief for retirees and caregivers alike. Careful preparations will ensure safer traveling, allow for better management of health care needs, and reduce the chance of a crisis developing away from home. Planning ahead can also enhance the snowbird experience and put your mind at ease as well as the minds of family members left up north.

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