From job opportunities that take adult children out of town to Mom and Dad retiring in a warmer climate, more and more families are living farther and farther apart. In fact, most adults 60+ live more than 280 miles from their nearest child.
Right now, there are approximately 5-7 million long-distance caregivers in the U.S., which is about 15 percent of all family caregivers. This number is expected to double by 2020. If you are one of the many million long-distance caregivers, here are some things you can do to help your parents live safely in their own homes.
Gather Important Information
Long-distance caregivers often need access to a parent’s personal, health, financial and legal records. The National Institute on Aging has a helpful list of “important papers” and other key information to collect. Consider scanning and storing these documents online or on your computer so you have access wherever you need them.
An elder law attorney can also help gather records and prepare applicable documents such as a will or estate plan, advanced care directive or living will, and power of attorney. Knowing your loved one’s final wishes (and having it in writing) can alleviate stress and confusion when critical decisions need to be made.
Create a Circle of Support
While you may be hundreds of miles away, are there other family members, friends, clergy or neighbors who could check on your parent? Some communities have a Carrier Alert program, in which postal workers are trained to look for signs of distress. If they suspect something may be wrong, they report their concerns to an agency that will then check on the senior. If you are concerned about your loved one’s diet and health, Meals on Wheels not only provides nutritious food, but an extra set of eyes on your loved one.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself – physically and emotionally. Support groups can be a great way to learn about care techniques, get advice from other caregivers or let off some steam. Developing a strong support system of personal and professional connections helps your parent live safely at home and gives you peace of mind.
Hold Family Meetings
If you are coordinating care for an elderly relative, the Family Caregiver Alliance recommends holding regular family meetings. Depending on your situation, this may involve several family members, close friends and professional caregivers or it may be just you and your parent. Setting up a schedule of meetings, creating action plans and delegating responsibilities can benefit both the person receiving care and the family caregivers.
The Family Caregiver Alliance also has a handbook for long-distance caregivers, which includes a checklist of care needs to discuss. For ideas on how to bring up the sensitive topic of long-term care with an aging parent, download our e-book, Important Things to Discuss With Your Aging Loved One.
Once you figure out your parent’s current and potential long-term needs, start researching options. Home care, for example, provides assistance with everyday activities such as:
- Bathing and getting dressed
- Grocery shopping and meal preparation
- Transportation to doctor appointments and errands
- Light housekeeping and laundry
- Medication reminders
There may come a time, however, when your loved one needs private-duty nursing or hospice care in addition to home care services. The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator can connect you to a variety of long-term care services.
Find Remote Opportunities
Think about what can be done over the phone or computer. Can you manage your parent’s bills online? Will Mom give you permission for her doctor to call you after every appointment? What about online medical records or test results – could you get access?
Something else to consider are medical alert and fall detection systems. These devices can notify you when your parent has an emergency. Remote services such as these help seniors live independently at home, while providing you with timely updates to maximize their safety and well-being.
Long-distance caregivers have a unique set of challenges. However, with organization and preparation, coordinating care from far away is manageable. ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care is one of the many resources available to you. Call us any time at 800-886-4044. Together we can help you and your aging loved one live the best life possible.