How to Help Aging Parents Living Far Away

How to Help Aging Parents Living Far Away

The number of long-distance caregivers continues to rise as ageing parents live longer lives and more adult children appear to relocate far away for work or other reasons. If you’re caring for your parents from afar, keep in mind that at least seven million Americans are in the same boat as you, so you shouldn’t feel bad about making a mistake.  You can help coordinate care, address medical and financial issues, and assess living conditions as a long-distance caregiver, among other things. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not being close by; find ways to help and be involved in your parents’ lives.

Part 1 Gathering and Organizing Information

1. Make a “care journal.” Whether you prefer a cloud-based file or a folder on your nightstand, the need for organisation remains the same. You should make a place where you can collect, store, and find important information about your parent’s care (s).

You’ll find it easier to not only find what you need, but also to share it with siblings, family members, or other caregivers, if you create a “one-stop” repository for important information and resources. Distribute copies and, as needed, provide updates.

2. Make a list of local contacts. You simply cannot respond immediately (in person) to an emergency or a time-sensitive situation when you live far away. You can help your parent(s) by keeping a list of local contacts who can help when they need it by keeping a list of local contacts who can help.

Get the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of trusted neighbours, doctors, pharmacists, local caregivers, social workers, and others, as well as detailed contact information for your parents and other close relatives. Distribute copies and keep them in the care notebook.

3. Organize paperwork and assist with it. When you live far away from your parents, you can’t personally assist them with tasks such as grocery shopping, housecleaning, and so on. You can, however, perform a variety of important “administrative” tasks, such as organising and managing medical, legal, and financial documents and information.

You can use the internet to help your parents pay bills, keep track of healthcare issues and financial investments, and assist them in a variety of other important areas that can be overwhelming to older adults.

But don’t just “take over” without first having a substantive discussion. Ensure that your autonomy and privacy are respected. If you feel you need to be more involved, talk to your parent about obtaining “durable power of attorney” so you can make important decisions for them (s). To discuss medical matters with doctors, insurers, and others, you should be designated as a “healthcare proxy” and sign the required papers.

4. Coordination of local assistance is required. Regardless of how much help and support you can provide from afar and during visits, your parent(s) will eventually require daily assistance. This could entail contacting the local “agency on ageing” to arrange for meal deliveries or home health aide visits, or it could entail hiring a “geriatric care manager” to assist with ongoing care and decisions.

Geriatric care managers are usually licenced nurses or social workers who have prior experience assessing senior needs and coordinating resources. Investigate and interview potential candidates, inquiring about their licencing, experience, and pay rate, among other things.

Contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the United States, or the equivalent entity in other countries, for information on local resources and, in particular, the availability of financial assistance.

In some areas of the United States, trained USPS mail carriers can conduct wellness checks on seniors (the Carrier Alert Program).

Part 2 Making the Most of Calls and Visits

1. Pose provocative questions. Over the phone, it’s difficult to tell how a parent is doing because you’re likely to get a lot of “I’m fine” and “We’re doing OK” responses. You don’t want to turn your calls into interrogations — they should be relaxing and enjoyable for everyone — but you should try to include some basic detective work in the form of questions that will elicit more detailed responses.

Instead of asking, “Have you been eating?” try asking, “What’s on the lunch menu for today?” Alternatively, bring up the weather and see if you can get your parent to talk about the last time he or she left the house by bringing up the weather.

Even if you’re paying a visit in person, come up with some questions about health, housekeeping, paying bills, and other topics that require more than a yes-or-no response.

2. Examine and improve living conditions. When you live far away, you are likely to only be able to visit on rare occasions and with advance notice. This may make it easier for your parent(s) to hide issues at home. Prepare a list of potential concerns (housekeeping, medication adherence, etc.) that you want to look into before each visit.

Plan ahead to make the most of each visit. Check to see if you can schedule your visit around existing appointments. Make some time to fix the leaky faucet or catch up on the bills that have been piling up. Of course, make sure you leave enough time for everyone to enjoy their visit.

3. Attend your parent’s appointments (s). You should be able to attend medical, financial, legal, or other important appointments, especially if you’ve scheduled them ahead of time. Discuss the situation ahead of time so you don’t surprise your parent(s) with the idea at the last minute, and make it clear that you’re there to support and assist, not to take over.

Make sure you have legal permission to speak with a doctor, attorney, or financial advisor about a parent’s personal matters. Make a list of questions for yourself, and assist your parent with any questions that may arise.

You can accomplish more during your visits if you are already actively involved in the organisation and management of important matters while away from your parent(s).

Part 3 Caring for Them and Yourself

1. Talk about your healthcare and end-of-life wishes. Whether or not you are a parent’s designated “healthcare proxy,” you should have a thorough discussion about preferences for when a serious illness or death occurs. Bringing up such issues when your parents are healthy may require some tact and sensitivity, but it is still preferable to waiting too long and missing the opportunity to clearly identify their wishes.

If you have siblings or other family members who are involved, you should try to organise a group meeting to discuss these important issues. When done ahead of time, it can help keep everyone calm and focused, allowing them to make more rational decisions. Make sure your parents are as involved as possible, and if circumstances permit, take the lead. Whenever possible, they should be in charge of these crucial decisions.

2. Collaborate with other family members to lighten the load. In many cases, the child who lives closest to an elderly parent is left to shoulder the majority (or even all) of the caregiving duties. If you live far apart and have siblings (or other family members who are involved), try to work together to coordinate care so that everyone contributes fairly and responsibly.

Of course, proximity will determine how many responsibilities are shared; the sibling who lives closest to you will likely be the one running to the store, while the sibling who lives far away may pay bills online. However, keep in mind your relative strengths and available time — for example, a notoriously disorganised brother might not be the best choice for handling all of the important paperwork.

3. Consider your relocation options. You might want to consider reducing the distance component of your long-distance care, especially if you don’t have other family members to share the burden. This may entail bringing your parent(s) into your home or relocating them closer to you. You may also believe that moving your parents from their home (to a retirement community or assisted living facility, for example) is a good idea, regardless of distance.

Take your time to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of moving because it is a big decision. Moving your parent(s) into your home will most likely save you money and make daily care much easier, but it will also be a major upheaval for everyone involved. Make sure you talk to your parents and take their preferences into account (s). Will the loss of independence and abandonment of a longtime home be a positive opportunity for closer bonding, or will the loss of independence and abandonment of a longtime home cause problems?

Moving a long distance also entails finding new doctors, caregivers, and helpers, as well as new friends. It may be necessary at times, particularly if your parent(s) are not safe or well-cared for at home, but it should not be taken lightly.

4. Don’t forget to look after yourself. Being a long-distance caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding, even if you aren’t providing direct care on a daily basis like a local caregiver. It can be even more stressful at times because it’s harder to notice the difference you’re making. You must, however, take care of yourself physically and emotionally in order to effectively care for your parent(s).

Long-distance caregivers may undervalue or ignore the amount of work they put in to assist loved ones, often because they don’t feel like they’re doing the “hard work” on a daily basis. Despite the fact that most long-distance caregivers provide care for the equivalent of one day per week, they are less satisfied and feel more guilty (for not doing enough) than close caregivers.

Keep in mind that there are seven million people in the United States alone who provide long-distance care. As a long-distance caregiver, you are not alone, no matter where you live. There are support groups available, and talking to others who are dealing with similar issues can be beneficial emotionally and physically.

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