This time of year, many senior
"snowbirds" are packing their bags, closing up
northern residences and migrating toward senior
communities to escape the winter’s 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
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 Alzheimer’s disease,
diabetes, allergies, epilepsy and Parkinson’s
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
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
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 Alzheimer’s
Association, American Cancer Society or the
National Parkinson’s 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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