Natalie Strouth is a nurse with Saint Elizabeth and the information specialist behind Ask Elizabeth, a free caregiver support service. Saint Elizabeth, a home health care company, has been a trusted name in Canadian health care for more than a century and is a national, not-for-profit, charitable organization.
With the arrival of Fall, like many of us, I've been reflecting on the fun experiences my family and friends had this summer. My thoughts inevitably also turn to those with new health challenges and disabilities, and their caregivers, the people who are supporting them. When one of you has a health issue, it can be challenging (or downright overwhelming!) to plan what used to be a simple trip to the theatre or museum, take a vacation with your spouse, or go to a family birthday celebration at the cottage.
The good news is that through working with hundreds of families with different health challenges and disabilities -- even planning a 3,000 km road trip with someone in a wheelchair -- I've learned that there are many wonderful opportunities to get out and create lasting happy memories, participate in things that bring joy, and still manage the care.
Plan, plan, plan.
Spend some time up front planning and learning about where you are going, what challenges you may be confronted with and how you are going to overcome and manage them. Stay organized with a pad of paper, a file folder, or use an organizing app.
Keep everyone involved in the conversations as much as you can.
Create an inclusive environment by keeping everyone involved with as much of the planning, brainstorming and problem solving -- this will help ease anxiety and create a sense of control.
Small successes build self-confidence. It may take a few local outings to figure out what time of day is best, how to effectively manage a public washroom, what to bring to ensure comfort, and how to navigate crowds, weather and accessibility issues.
A friend had a goal of travelling to Toronto to see a musical. To work up to this, we started by going to the park, bringing her manual wheelchair in my car. Next, we went to a movie. Feeling confident, we then successfully made the trip to Toronto and saw a musical -- still only using her manual wheelchair. She decided we weren't stopping there!
The next goal was an overnight trip with her electric wheelchair. We checked out destinations and accessible accommodations, rented a van and bought some ramps. We made it to Point Pelee and she rode her wheelchair to the most southern point of Canada all on her own. It was a wonderful moment.
These successes inspired her to dream bigger than she and I could have ever imagined. She wanted to purchase her own van, have it modified for her wheelchair, and take a road trip to her sister's house in Houston, Texas, with her nephew. We made it happen! What an honour it was to be a part of achieving these huge goals.
Manage the care.
If your destination is within the same province, check with your home health care provider about temporarily transferring your care. Your case manager can help arrange this for you and also provide you information about local health care service and medical equipment providers should you require it.
A home care client of mine for many years often had her nursing care transferred to her mom's home, where she visited frequently throughout the year for extended periods of time. I also saw clients for short term care when they were visiting the region where I worked. Give yourself and others as much time as possible to arrange plans.
Travel with a companion.
This can be a great option! Start by looking within your circle of family and friends for someone who has a sense of adventure, is flexible, and is confident in their abilities to meet your needs. Decide early how much you want them to be a part of your holiday. Some people prefer to vacation on their own, only needing their travel companion for their care needs, while others want the companionship of travelling with someone else.
Research accessibility and discount options.
Gathering information about accessible travel options will help you plan your trip with confidence, and to take charge of your travel experience. Shop around, ask questions, and compare answers -- service and options will vary.
- The March of Dimes offers travel insurance for persons with disabilities. Their website also has many links to detailed information and travel resources.
- Access 2 Entertainment card: The Easter Seals runs a program that allows persons with a disability to receive either free admission or a significant discount for their support person at member attractions and movie theatres and attractions across Canada. View a full list of locations that accept the card.
- Frederick Travel Waterloo specializes in making accessible travel arrangements all over the world.
- For B.C. residents looking to travel to the islands, B.C. Ferries provides a variety of services and discount fares for persons with disabilities to ensure a safe and comfortable journey.
Lastly, re-imagine what is possible by staying focused on one's ability and right to being fully included in all that life has to offer.
Check out www.abilities.ca, Canada's lifestyle magazine for people with disabilities, their families, friends and professionals who support them.
Send your caregiving question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers may appear in an upcoming weekly column. Ask Elizabeth does not offer legal guidance, nor does it answer questions about personal health issues.