Have you been troubled since your last trip home to visit mom and dad? When, say, it dawned on you that your father was increasingly unsteady on his feet or that your mother could no longer shop alone. Although the exact scenario may differ, the point is you now realize they need more support, and you are the logical one to provide it—even if you live 800 miles away.
Yes, you may soon be joining the ranks of the estimated five to seven million long-distance caregivers in the U.S. Luckily for you, we’ve come up five tips to guide you through what might be challenging times ahead.
As your parents grow older and frailer, they will surely appreciate some extra attention from you. Check in with them regularly by phone or Skype at least a couple of times per week and be prepared to fly home if their situation takes a turn for the worse. You should also set up periodic conference calls with your parents and other siblings to discuss important decisions like finances or end-of-life care wishes.
If you work outside the home, let your employer know about your situation as you may need to miss work, rearrange your schedule or cut your hours should your parents’ needs increase. Informing your boss beforehand may help smooth the process should you need future accommodation.
Like any family caregiver, you’ll need to know as much as possible about your parents’ health. So, ask them for details about their medical conditions, their prescriptions and their insurance coverage. Also ask them to email any relevant medical reports as well as contact numbers for their GPs and specialists.
Although caregiving from a distance can be nerve-wracking, technology may allow you to breathe easier. For instance, a personal emergency response system (PERS) can ensure your parents get help in an emergency while smart homes go a long way towards keeping your parents safe. Smart technology includes stoves that automatically shut off when there’s no one in the kitchen, sensors that control climate and detect fire and flooding, and motion sensors that can prompt you if mom or dad has stopped moving. Also talk to your parents about wearable devices like watches, smart activity trackers and smart clothes, which can record heart rate, blood pressure or stress level, automatically alerting you if their measurements get out of whack.
Sometimes it takes a village to help with caregiving. Don’t be shy in contacting the local Area Agency on Aging to find out about community resources like Meals on Wheels. As well, the non-profit organization Caring from a Distance can provide support and resources. And tap into to local family members, friends or neighbors who could take mom and dad shopping or to medical appointments and the like. Bolster this support by hiring a home health aide or a geriatric care manager, who can evaluate your parents’ needs and begin a plan of care.
Has your parents’ needs increase, though, aging in place might become untenable, making assisted living the logical option given that it offers individualized care round the clock. For an extra sense of security, some senior living communities, including those at Sunshine Retirement Living, regularly check in on residents, notifying family if they feel anything is amiss. For example, staff are trained to notice if regulars are missing from breakfast or from other daily routines. Some Sunshine communities have even set up a resident buddy system (also known as a “Resident Ambassadors” program), where residents check on each other. (Families are also welcome to call Sunshine communities daily if they like, and staff will check on their loved ones).
Of course, not all older adults need (or even want) a lot of assistance. Luckily, senior living offers communities that meet every lifestyle. The truth is many older adults who don’t require a high level of care choose this option, because they love being surrounded by people and having activities galore to choose from.
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