Long Distance Caregiving is quickly becoming a way of life for many individuals. With the aging of the “Boomer” generation and shifts in our social structure, it is estimated by 2040 more working adults will care for parents than will care for children.
A holiday visit to your parent’s house or a phone call in the middle of the night may be all it takes to introduce you to your new role as Long Distance Caregiver.
So where do you begin? What are your responsibilities? What do you need to know and where can you find help?
Everyday more resources are becoming available to support family caregivers. Most experts agree on a few basic steps to help adult children gain control of a stressful family situation:
Assess the situation
Whether you discover your parents are struggling with day to day home maintenance or serious medical issues, it is important to get a complete picture of their personal status. Don’t be afraid to ask parents questions about their health or things they are struggling with at home. A last minute visit to their house often tells a much better story than a planned holiday visit, as issues may be more visible without the distraction of other relatives, holiday cheer and seasonal decorations. Try not to become patronizing, overreact or be overly critical if you discover unhealthy or unsafe living conditions. Take some time to first understand and listen to your parents and discover their concerns.
There are three primary areas that may require professional assessment: medical concerns, cognitive concerns and an assessment of “Activities of Daily Living” (ADL’s). This last group includes items such as socialization, personal hygiene and the ability to prepare meals, take medications and manage finances.
Medical professionals, social workers and Geriatric Care Managers may be able to assist with these personal assessments.
Discuss the location of important medical, legal and financial documents with your parents and determine if they willing to release copies of information to you. If they prefer to keep paperwork in the hands of legal or financial representatives, that is their prerogative. They may be willing to share names of individuals or institutions involved. At a minimum, you should possess or know the whereabouts of their date of birth, social security information and Medical Insurance information.
Your parents should be encouraged to assign Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney and complete or update Wills and Advanced Directives.
Long Distance Caregiving often involves a team approach. Your responsibility is to help those team members understand their roles and keep communications open. Resources will vary for every family, and may involve medical professionals, social services, care managers, home care providers, attorneys, financial advisors and more.
Additional support for your parents in the form of relatives, close friends, neighbors, religious leaders and other associates are equally as important. These individuals often become the people you rely on most for day to day updates and oversight for your parents. Obtain a copy of your parents’ local phone book or personal address book if possible.
Establish a Plan
Discuss short and long term options with your parents based on the advice of professionals along with your parents’ personal wishes. Once areas of necessary support have been identified, set up a schedule for communicating with local care givers and other family members to make sure things are progressing as planned. Be prepared for sudden changes in health or mental health status.
Consider all the options before moving your relative. While moving a parent closer may seem to be the best solution for you, in-home services may permit them to remain in their familiar home, which is preferred by most older adults. In the event of a move, local services such as Professional Organizers, Movers and move managers, can coordinate all aspects of a relocation project, including planning for movers, realtors, organization, shipping, packing, estate sale and more.
Recognize Your Limitations
Frequent travel to visit parents can be stressful and creates difficult situations for jobs and immediate family. Be sure to budget your travel funds and set up a network of support through family, friends and child care services to help support your new role. Discuss your parents’ situation with your supervisors and Human Resources department at the workplace so they may better accommodate changes in your schedule. Ask your spouse and children for personal or emotional support when it is needed.
Don’t overlook signs of stress, which are quite common for care givers. Chronic fatigue, weight loss or gain, indecisiveness, sleeplessness and irritability are all symptoms of the stress you may be under. Give yourself a break by relying on your spouse, friends, family and professional resources. Be sure to eat healthy, exercise and maintain regular sleeping hours.
As our parents live longer, a whole new set of skills are required to support our families. Fortunately, technology, services and professional resources are developing at rapid pace to help support this new “Age of Care Giving.”
For free booklets on Long Distance Care Giving
National Institution on Aging
and Family Caregiver Alliance
Other Books: The Complete Eldercare Planner, Second Edition: Where to Start, Which
Questions to Ask, and How to Find Help
©RightSized Living, LLC 2001-2010.The content of this document has been created by or on behalf of RightSized Living, LLC, and is the sole exclusive property of RightSized Living®. Any unauthorized use of this information in part or entirety is strictly prohibited.
About the author: Nan Hayes has helped countless families with organizing , downsizing and move management. She is the founder of MoveSeniors.com and is dedicated to helping seniors find qualified professional resources to support their Later Life Home Transitions™.