As difficult as it is to care for an aging parent, the challenges are magnified when your aging loved ones live tens or hundreds of miles away.
Adult children living at a distance from aging parents who are becoming infirm or incapacitated in any way face a number of difficult situations. Over the long term, they must balance the needs of their loved ones with the needs of their immediate family, job and financial security. In response to numerous short-term crises, they must decide when to travel to visit their parents, which creates not only disruption but can become costly, as well. These dilemmas can become overwhelming, creating both stress and feelings of guilt.
It’s not uncommon for long-distance caregivers to wonder if the situation will be a lot more manageable if their elderly loved ones were to move closer to the caregiver. Unfortunately, this line of thinking often overlooks or runs head-on into a host of other issues when Mom and Dad do not want to move, would lose their friends and social structures, would need to start with new physicians, and most commonly just don’t want to lose their independence.
In most cases, the best solution for a long-distance caregiver is to take advantage of resources that make the current setup more manageable. To help our readers avoid stress, guilt, anxiety and burnout as best as possible, we have collected the following tips that we’ve observed ourselves in successful long-distance caregivers:
Find a Geriatric Care Manager – Professional geriatric care managers are usually licensed nursing or social work professionals who specialize in geriatrics. Some families hire a geriatric care manager to evaluate and assess a parent’s needs and to coordinate care through local resources. The cost of an initial evaluation varies, but geriatric care managers can offer a useful service. They are a sort of “surrogate family member” that can help families identify needs and how to address them successfully. These professionals can also be helpful in leading family discussions about sensitive subjects.
Gather Personal, Financial, Health & Legal Information – Effective caregiving depends on keeping a great deal of information in order and up-to-date. Often, long-distance caregivers will need to have information about a parent’s personal, health, financial, and legal records. This is a chore for anybody, but gathering and organizing this information from far away can seem even more challenging. Maintaining up-to-date information about your elderly relative or parent’s health and medical care, as well as finances, home ownership, insurance coverage and other legal issues, will allow you get a handle on what is going on, and reduce response time if there is a crisis. A current list of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, including doses and schedules, may make a tremendous difference in a medical emergency.
Plan Ahead – Making advance care plans is a key step for your parent or relative to ensure that his or her health care preferences are known and followed. Health care providers can only respect those wishes that have been made known and are documented in the medical record. Advance care planning can help your family avoid many of the conflicts that can occur when family members disagree over treatment decisions. Find out if your parent or relative has an advance directive stating his or her health care treatment preferences. If so, make sure you have a copy in a safe location. If not, talk with them about setting one up. Any professionals involved in the individual’s care (i.e. a home health aide, a geriatric care manager, etc.) should also have a copy, as should your mother or father’s primary care physician.
Become Familiar with Available Local Resources – Every state has a Department of Aging, which can provide the names of social service agencies that are nearest to your parents. Private care managers who have specific expertise in the area of geriatrics and who can provide more specific services. You can also try to find a directory of senior resources and services by checking with a library or senior center for lists of resources. Every state’s resources and credentialing agencies are structured slightly differently, so it may take some time to gather the lay of the land. If your aging parent lives in South Florida, we are happy to help point you in the right direction.
Make Friends – It’s important to start developing relationships with people who live in the same area as your long-distance parent or relative. A neighbor, a community member, or even a member of the clergy can check in on your parents and serve as your eyes and ears on the ground, alerting you if they detect a change in your mom or dad’s situation. Of course, this requires a level of trust be developed by your parents, and will naturally take time – time better invested before a crisis.
Hire a Professional Caregiver – We know it sounds like a shameless self-promotion, which is why we left it for last on the list. But bringing a home health aide or nursing assistant into your parents’ home, even for just a few hours every other day, can make a tremendous difference. Not only will your mother or father get assistance with things like errands, medication reminders, meal prep and light housekeeping, you will also gain the peace of mind knowing that someone is physically checking in on them on a regular basis. Boca Home Care Services has been referring screened, licensed and experienced home health care professionals to families in South Florida for over 25 years, and we see time and again how at-home care for seniors makes the lives of both the clients and their long-distance adult children so much easier.
We understand how challenging it can be to live far away from an elderly relative for whom you feel responsible. By employing some of the advice above, you can make caring for such a loved one significantly less stressful. If there’s any other way we can help, please contact one of our care specialists.