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Long Distance Caregiving

With over 7 million adults providing long-distance caregiving to their loved ones, Americans are increasingly seeking ways to make the distance-gap less cumbersome.  Providing care while living in the same city as your parent is taxing enough, but living an hour or more away only exasperates the doubt and concerns that arise when it comes to your parent receiving proper care.

Distance impacts the ability to check on their health and daily well-being, as is the ability to help them with healthcare, managing money or keeping up with housework and cooking meals. Taking on the responsibility of caring for your aging parents is a difficult task in the best of times, but when you add distance into the mix, it’s complicated even further.

Managing a loved one’s health is never easy, regardless of the location, however there are ways to feel more prepared and productive when you are providing long-distance care.

Solicit help from others. It’s almost impossible to go it alone when trying to care for elderly loved ones when you’re not in the same area as they are. Look for friends, family members, church friends, or neighbors on whom you can rely to check in on your relatives and report back. Look for someone that can help them with daily tasks if necessary.

When it comes to caring for parents, one of the most challenging tasks is deciding how to divide up tasks among siblings. While one sibling is usually left with the majority of the caregiving duties, it is important to establish early on what each sibling is willing or capable of doing. Having this conversation early will prevent many headaches in the future. If you are not the primary caregiver, never underestimate the power of offering appreciation, positive reinforcement and reassurance to the primary caregiver.

Locate community resources. Look for federal, state and local senior resources in their hometown and give them a call. Find out what kind of services they provide and how you can get your parents involved in those services. They could range from a Meals-on-Wheels delivery service or shuttle rides to and from shopping centers or doctor visits.

Be on top of their medical conditions. Make certain you are involved in your parents’ medical conditions and that you are their medical power of attorney.  Be sure that their physician’s office is aware and has the correct documentation. Also, keep an up to date list of the medications and health issues your parents are dealing with and keep all of this vital health information together in one place. Ask the doctor for advice on helping your parents manage their health even though you’re not in the area.

Ensure the safety of important documents. Keep all important documents in a safe place in the event you’re called upon to be a health care proxy or exercise a power of attorney. You should also have copies of your parent’s driver’s licenses, home ownership and legal papers, medical insurance and other critical documents.

Being an effective caregiver means keeping your information straight and up-to-date. Gathering your parent’s personal, health, financial and legal information can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. Assembling this information in a different city only adds to the stress. However, having your parent’s information is a priceless tool, you will feel more at ease about your parent’s condition and be able to respond better in an emergency. Gathering all of this information will probably take more than one visit. Find the most important information first and work on filling the gaps as you go. Throughout the information gathering process it is important to be aware of your parent’s privacy and make sure they do not feel as though you are invading it. Explain to them that you are not trying to impose on their private life, rather you are preparing their personal information in case a situation arises, so all the proper documents will be readily accessible.

Set aside time to visit.When you’re visiting make certain you schedule enough time to spend with them so you’re not feeling rushed. You want to be able to gauge their health and living conditions and address any issues that cause you concern. This is a good time to determine whether or not they would benefit from a medical alert device from LifeFone.

Don’t let the visit be all about “checking up on them.” Plan time for a movie or a dinner out or a day excursion. This is also a good time to schedule doctor’s appointments. It is important to be able to ask the doctor questions that your mom or dad may not realize needs an answer.

Stay in touch with them.Beyond your visits, it is important to stay in constant, regular contact with your mom or dad. They need to hear from you, hear about your day, and they also need someone in whom they can confide. You can also schedule conference calls with doctors, if necessary. Perhaps they have a friend or neighbor who is willing to check in on them on a regular basis to support your long-distance caregiving.

As a caregiver, whether you live close by or out of state, you need to know your own limits and gauge where your strengths lie. If you have other family members that are involved spend some time divvying up the tasks and assign them to the person with the greatest skill in that particular area. Remember, at some point a decision may have to be made to move your aging parents out of the family home and into an assisted living facility and that process is easier if the entire family is involved.

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