Life is sweet at home

Tips for Caring for Aging Parents from a Distance

Courtesy National Institute on Aging

Courtesy National Institute on Aging

Many of us live more than an hour away or even cross-country from our aging parents. What happens when they need more care? How do adult children and families ensure Mom and Dad are as safe and healthy as possible at a distance?

At Andelcare our veteran care managers help long distance families provide quality care for their loved ones in King County. In this blog we take a look at what other experts suggest.

According to an article on the National Institute on Aging website, if you are a long-distance caregiver, you are definitely not alone: There may be as many as 7 million people in your same situation in the United States. In the past, caregivers have been primarily working women in mid-life with other family responsibilities. That’s changing. More and more men are getting involved; in fact, surveys show that men now represent almost 40 percent of caregivers.

In “Health Care Issues of Aging Families: A Handbook for Adult Children” by John W. Gibson, DSW and Bonnie Brown Hartley, Ph.D., this challenging situation calls for understanding that parents’ needs are changing and that more outside help will be necessary. These Northwest-based authors suggest adult children ask “what if” questions, find local support people, be honest about how much they can do and be realistic about how much their parents can actually do.

Marla and her mom share a special moment looking at photo albums.

Marla and her mom share a special moment looking at photo albums.

In an article by M.J. Plaster in a recent Work-life Balance article, the author offers 10 tips, many from the   National Institute on Aging, for making sure your parents receive the best care possible:

  1. Download So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving, a publication by the National Institute on Aging.
  2. Call a family meeting with siblings (if any) to determine responsibilities and to decide who can take a set-up trip. Caring for aging parents requires that you first assess their situation (can they drive safely, taking their medication properly, paying their bills, etc.)
  3. The Mayo Clinic advises: “In coordination with your loved one and his or her other caregivers, schedule conference calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in your loved one’s health.” Your parents must sign a release with their health care providers.
  4. Ask your parents’ neighbors, friends, clergy, housekeeper, mail carrier, etc. to check in regularly with your parents and call you if they have concerns.
  5. Execute a living will and a health power of attorney (POA) if they aren’t already in place. You can download free forms online or use a reputable online service such as LegalZoom.
  6. Invest in a medical alert system and make sure your parents understand how it works. Knowing that help is one button push away can relieve some of the stress of caring for aging parents from a distance and can provide life-saving assistance when needed.
  7. If your parents have a computer, set up Skype so you can make video calls. One video chat is worth many phone calls.
  8. Investigate home health services before you need them, and if there’s time, check out several assisted living facilities.
  9. FamilyEducation.com also suggests you set up a chore network — people who can mow the lawn, walk the dog, shovel snow, and run errands.
  10. When you return home, make frequent phone calls to check on your parents, and Skype them at least once a week. Check in with their friends, neighbors, and doctors as needed.

Caring for aging parents at a distance is a difficult job. Do your homework, set up resources and connections before a crisis.

Talk to your parents about their changing needs. Enlist family members to help you develop a clear action plan of who does what and when to help out. Sometimes the distant relative can help siblings, who bear the majority of caregiving, by bill paying, emotional support and/or offering to provide respite care to the caregiver as often as possible.

All NIA resources can be ordered online at www.nia.nih.gov/health or by calling 1-800-222-2225 (toll-free) or 1-800-222-4225 for TTY (toll-free).