Caregiving From a Distance
The other side of the diaspora experience is loneliness and neglect, particularly for the elderly. Attention and sensitivity can go a long way in ensuring love and care for those who have raised you to adulthood and provided the stepping stone to your success.
BY SEJAL DESAI
My maternal grandmother, who I call Ba, turned 110 in December. She is nine years younger than Kane Tanaka, the oldest person in the world. After two years, I recently had the opportunity to spend time in Mumbai with my parents who are 79 and 83 and have been caring for my Ba through Covid. Observing their collective resilience through very challenging times nudged me to reflect on my Ba’s life and the role of caregivers.
A decade ago, when Ba was about to turn 100, people would ask me, “What’s her secret?” and “Is there longevity in your family?” I knew she had won the genetic lottery but beyond that I did not know what to attribute it to. In search of an answer, I Googled, “What makes people live to 100?”
The Blue Zones Project popped up. The Blue Zones Project, a study conducted in conjunction with National Geographic, identified rare longevity hotspots around the world and looked for common characteristics among its centenarians. Through their research, they developed The Power 9 (secrets of longevity) framework for living a healthy and meaningful life.
When I first read The Power 9 list, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I could connect so many of them back to my grandmother’s story and in turn other Blue Zone centenarians. The list is practical, and we can apply it to modern life. We may not all live to 100, but maybe we can extend our lives by 5-10 healthy, meaningful years. That is what kept me going down the research path and I began to adopt some of these Power 9 habits myself.
GOOD TO KNOW FOR DISTANCE CAREGIVERS
My husband and I have not yet had to step into the role of active caregivers. We have other family members living with our elders in India, so we have been primarily emotional caregivers or caregivers at a distance. Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to observe numerous caregivers: my mother, aunts, brother-inlaw, sister-in-law and others. I have also watched my friends and family in the US grapple with distance care—needing to provide for medical and emotional support. These experiences along with my work as a board member of a Dallas-based nonprofit, The Senior Source, has helped me develop these six simple yet meaningful strategies for elder care at a distance.
1. DON’T DO IT ALONE
Caregivers, especially those at a distance, need to engage family, friends, and trusted service providers. Having a support system allows others to pitch in by either providing respite care, taking direct responsibility for the senior, or by doing small services to support the caregiver. When my mother was ill with Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic and I was 10,000 miles away, her strong support network of family and neighbours all pitched in to get us through a very difficult time.
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