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Posted: October 20, 2004

Professional Caregiving

In a Virtual World, There's Caregiving in Your Pajamas

Facilitate your support groups in your pajamas? Help a family through mediation while lying on a beach? Take a class while riding a train?

More and more our customer base is warming to new ways of connecting, purchasing, learning and selling. Here I am, sitting on the beach in North Carolina . The sun has risen, the waves are falling one into the next, and I am working. This is peaceful and inspiring.

We can engage others now in the same way, with the same backdrop that painting a picture in the woods or writing a journal on a mountaintop has inspired artists and writers for years. The virtual experience lends itself to connecting to others in an environment that is anything but mundane. No longer limited to an office, professionals have trained to expand their service delivery into the virtual world.

Take me, for example. Two years ago I began a training program in life and business coaching. This seemed in line with the type of cognitive, results-oriented work I naturally ascribe to in my counseling, managing and teaching. I like to look at the future and from that draw a map that will lead me from where I am to that new destination.

The training course turned out to be virtual (conference call based), and thus began my first immersion into the world of working virtually. One of my courses focused on virtual group work, and while I would say I felt competent and experienced in leading groups of people into new directions, as I had for years, the way to manage these processes over phone lines adds another component that has expanded the way I can work.

I have been offering virtual support groups to caregivers who either by choice or necessity join the phone group as an alternate way of getting and giving support. The groups meet once a month, more often if they as a group choose, and the intent is to offer a way for people who care for loved ones to get support and connect with others. This is done without the hassle of driving to the group, parking, sitting in waiting rooms, but instead creates the anonymity that virtual groups offer some who prefer to keep their identity protected.

Using technology to connect with others is the next step in facilitating opportunities for our clients. When my sons and sister and I were planning this North Carolina vacation, for example, we met on a bridge line a few times. We discovered that talking through some decisions was preferable than doing group emails, so a conference line made this very convenient for all of us. This is the ultimate tool in virtual communication.

Caregivers, managers, team leaders and family or friendship groups can use the conference call to keep in touch, even when some of the members are not in town, in the office or available for face to face meetings. Any of the callers can maintain their connection even if they are on vacation, in the hospital or driving cross country. This can propel positive action faster than before because teams do not have to wait for all parties to be in town to meet.

Think of the ways this can be used in your line of work:

-- Family care planning can occur on a regular schedule, now that waiting for the family to come to town is not necessary. They can simply call in!

-- Family mediation can easily fall into this format, as most family members live in dispersed areas of the country and getting everyone in the same room might put off very important group mediation or decision making if all previously had to meet in a central location for this to occur.

-- Support groups, training programs, and one-time presentations can be designed to meet the needs of those who are not able to convene in one place to meet when they call in to a specified number.

Convenience of time and place are ultimately the decisionmaker's. No traffic, no leaving work, no driving, parking, or sitting in waiting rooms. Small towns don't offer the range of services that larger, more urban, towns do. Residents of these towns can now more easily than ever take advantage of the same access to groups if they are conducted virtually.

No longer is living out in the country synonymous with have to compromise accessibility to services, people and groups. If it can be done face to face, much can be done over the phone.

When we realize that caring for an aging loved one(s) is going to be a project for a decade or even two, using technology to bring the family and professionals together for the requisite planning, discussion and support will ease the burden of long distance caregiving. This will extend the time our client and customers will be more fully participatory in the care decisions and gleaning support from peers.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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