How to Handle Caregiving From Afar
Even though you live cross-country from your parents, it has never been a problem remaining close. Phone calls, visits and even FaceTime have helped you keep your close bond and keep tabs on what’s going on at home, until recently. Maybe you went home for the holidays and were shocked that your parents suddenly got “old,” or maybe one of your parents has suffered a fall or health crisis.
Whatever the situation, you realize that it is really difficult to care for your parents from across the state – or country. You’re not alone. According to the Long Distance Caregiver Project, there are approximately 3.3 million long distance caregivers and many live approximately 480 miles away from the people for which they care. Great, you’re not alone, but how can you manage the challenge of caring for an elderly parent from 480 miles away?
Solutions for Long-distance Caregivers
- Get a local advocate: Ideally, you have a family member or family who can check in on your parent(s) regularly to make sure they are safe and are not facing new challenges. If you don’t have a family member or friend, you may need to outsource the task. You can consider hiring a geriatric care manager or caregiving agency to check in on your parent. There are also a crop of new professionals who are more like a senior buddy, who will check in on your family member, take them to medical appointments and even take them grocery shopping. Building a strong caregiver support network is critical to your success.
- Medical Power of Attorney or Personal Representative: If you are involved in your parents’ medical care, be sure to have them communicate with their physicians that you are their personal representative so that you can speak with the doctor directly about medical concerns. You should also speak with your mother or father about updating their medical power of attorney to include you or another family member while they are still able to make the decision for themselves.
- Check in: While you can’t be there physically day-to-day, you can check in with them regularly in a way that works for both of you. Do your parents prefer phone conversations? Maybe you can call on your commute home so that you don’t take time away from your nuclear family in the evenings. Are your parents tech savvy? Texting or emailing can be a great way to check in.
- Outsource: If it is difficult for your parents to accomplish day-to-day tasks, consider bringing in help. Hire a cleaning service to come once or twice a month so that they don’t need to do the heavy lifting. Order groceries online so that they don’t need to make the trip and carry the heavy items inside. Sign them up for some social activities – many senior centers offer free transportation to city residents.
- Maximize your visits: When you do go home, don’t just stay home. Make sure you go out with your parents so you can see if they have difficulty getting out of the house – many houses have steps leading to the front door that can be challenging for the elderly, particularly if they use a walker. Schedule medical visits during your stay so that you can be there for the appointment and get your questions answered. If you’ve outsourced tasks or signed them up for activities, plan for them to start during your visit so that you can accompany your parents or make sure it runs smoothly.
While it can be difficult to care for your parents long distance, there are so many new senior service providers cropping up that it can definitely help bridge the gap when you aren’t around. What creative strategies do you use for caregiving long distance?