“I wonder how Mom’s appointment is going today. Did she get to the dentist last Thursday? I know she was supposed to go.” “I hope Dad’s back isn’t bothering him today. He may have to go see a back specialist soon if the pain persists. I know he isn’t going to like that…” Do these kind of questions seem familiar? Caring for an aging parent and being separated by hours of driving, sometimes hours of flying, can seem like an obstacle too high to climb. But the fact of the matter is that thousands of families are dealing with the same circumstances everyday, and there are existing services that can help guide you through the process.
The average child of an aging parent lives 480 miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s a little less than the distance from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s an 8 hour drive. Over half of long distance caregivers reported visiting more than once a month, according to The Metlife Study of Long Distance Caregiving. That’s over 1,000 miles of traveling a month! It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that if an 8 hour drive separates you from an aging loved one, providing and or managing their care is not going to be easy. How can you know if they’re taking the right medications at the right time? How can you know if they’re taking their medications at all? What did the doctor really say after the last check up? Should they still be driving, or is it time to take the license away? There are so many questions that distance creates, and dealing with them can cost you a lot of mental energy and induce a lot of stress. Often, an aging parent requires high touch care, which distance makes impossible. It’s not at all uncommon for children of aging parents to feel guilty for not being there more. However, it’s important to realize that you can’t realistically expect yourself to be in two places at once. Putting too much pressure on yourself only clouds your judgement and hinders your ability to care for your parents from afar.
Long Distance Caregiving Tips
1. Organization - It’s important to stay organized and store any relevant information regarding medical conditions, appointments, doctor’s notes, insurance policies, etc in one place where you can access them. Having valuable information scattered across the house can only make matters worse.
2. Communication - Staying in close contact with your parent(s) as they age is important for a lot of reasons, but especially important in caregiving situations. A weekly phone call goes a long way for staying on top all the ins and outs of their care. Also, sending pictures of things happening in your life or pictures of their grandchildren can help keep them mindful of their family.
3. Be Ready - Planning for a worst case scenario is never easy, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Have a plan in place for emergencies. If necessary, sometimes families will set up an emergency fund to cover any unexpected trips or visits. It’s also important to be aware of The Family and Medical Leave act of 1993, which grants unpaid leave to covered employees for certain family and medical reasons. Check with your employer to see if you’re covered.
4. ADLs and IADLs - Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living are good ways to measure the level of care your aging loved one might need. ADLs are seemingly simple things like hygiene, cleanliness, clothing, and feeding. IADLs are a little more complex. These include handling transportation, financing, and managing medications. It may not be realistic given the distance to have day-to-day specific reporting on these things without professional help, but having an idea of their performance in these areas can help you determine your next steps.
5. Create a Plan - Sit down with all members of the family, including your aging loved one, and have an open discussion about what most important aspects of care are. Make a note of family friends in the area or community resources that might help, and most importantly write it down. It’s important to have the plan in writing so you can refer to it at a later date.
6. Seek Professional Help - If the situation is too much to bear on your own, seek professional help from a local or virtual Care Manager.
A Care Manager can help provide local, personal, and hi-touch care around the clock. All certified Care Managers have at least a Master’s Degree and 2 years of experience, or a Bachelor’s Degree and more experience in eldercare. They know all the ins and outs of the health care system, they know how to handle uncomfortable situations like taking away the keys, and they will advocate for your aging loved every step of the way.
To learn more contact 615-595-8929 or visit www.lifelinks.care to learn more.