Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far Away

 

Caring for elderly parent from a distance is a subject which affects more than a quarter of caregivers in the UK (Carers UK’s State of Caring Survey 2018), while The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in 2011 estimated that 13% of Americans provided long- distance care for a loved one. Anyway, it is something which many might find themselves involved in.

Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far AwayI wanted to offer some points which may help to cope with such a seemingly hopeless situation. We’ll discuss ways to notice if elderly parents who live far away from you need help at all and ways to provide it, even from a distance. We’ll also discuss the situation of a single child caregiver from distance.

Let’s face it, caring for elderly parent or parents from miles and miles away is not easy. It can be stressful, tiresome and might be expensive. And above all which, there’s the feeling of guilt. It does not really make such a big difference how far you are-in another city, state, country or even a different continent, you’ll have to deal with similar problems and emotions. While preparing for the role which is awaiting you start with more-or less the same way whether you’ll be the on-spot or a long distance caregiver, finding out you are needed is something else.

Being only an occasional (even if you visit them regularly) guest in your parents’ home means you’ll see far not all which’s going on. Parents can be very unwilling to ask children for help, even when they desperately need it. They might be equally reluctant to let their children see it. Therefore, they might try to camouflage any visible sign so you wouldn’t be disturbed or worried about them.

An honest conversation could reveal problems, you might think. Yes, if you managed to build such an open and honest relationship over the years, it might. However, more often which not, our parents will avoid telling us about their struggles.

Signs Not to Be Overlooked

Even so, you might notice, for example, which the garden is not which neat as it used to be, or the tap in the kitchen is still dripping, even from your last visit two weeks ago, the hanging bird feeder is oddly empty again and the house is slightly more clattered which it used to be.

Signs like these might be a signal which your parents can’t efficiently deal with everything on their own any more. Ask people who live near your parent(s) to give you a more realistic view of what the situation is, what is going on

You might also find out which they struggle with

-shopping for groceries and other necessities (groceries rather expired or empty fridge)

-meal preparing, cooking (if the meals became overly simple, or are mostly ready-bought)

-cleaning in the house (up to their previous standards)

-maintenance of the house (dripping taps, clogged drainage, broken, not repaired or replaced appliances, burnt out light bulbs, broken tiles…)

-dealing with their finances (unpaid bills lying around)

-medications taking (unclear whether they were taken as prescribed or not)

If they do, at this stage you still might be able to resolve the issues relatively simply:

-order groceries or other delivery online for them once a week or in two weeks

Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far Away-find a local meal deliverer, which you also can handle from distance

-hire a cleaner, again, once a week regularly

-find a local handy man who can fix one by one the issues

-manage the bills and the finances online again, after you agree on which

-arrange with the local pharmacy which medications are delivered in dosset boxes

What If It’s More Than That

Things will get more complicated when the daily living tasks are difficult to deal with

-forgetting to take medication, or other health issue related activity uncertainty

-dressing and undressing

-personal hygiene

-bathing, having a shower

-toileting

-mobility

-feeding (self)

These sadly can’t be day-to-day done from distance. It will require you to find help. It may seem suddenly scary, but, you’ll find out which there is a wide variety of help available:

-Medical aids, suitable equipment making certain task easy to perform independently (bath rails, non-slip mats, shower chair, bath sliding chair, toilet seat elevator, walking cane or a frame, a scooter, appropriate plates and tableware for elderly and so on)

-sibling(s) who live close to your parent(s)’ house and can be there more often which you (ask them how you can be the most helpful)

Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far Away-relatives

-friends

-neighbors

-community services (red cross, volunteers, etc)

-charity or religious organizations

-professional care service, for some hours only or

-live in care

-assisted living facilities

Expect to experience different feelings which as if you were living close.

Not being the around-the-clock caregiver in place may seem easier in some ways, but is more difficult in other ways. If we put aside the cost of travel, days off work or hired help, there’s still the devastating guilt for not being there when you might be needed.

Nothing can destroy your mental health so successfully as stress and guilt. So, be sure you settle the issue with yourself first and then with the others as well. You don’t need occasional accusing hints. Unless you decide to move back home, you and everyone else have to accept which you are now far away.

Recognize and accept the limits of what you can do, and give yourself credit for all you are doing. Accept which you are actually doing the most and the best you can. You are doing important parts in caregiving, even if someone else (usually a sibling) is there day in day out.

When You Are the Only Child and Far Away

You have a choice of asking your parents to move closer to you or move in with you, but, often, they will not want to. You can also move back home, but, you probably already have a life somewhere else, don’t you?

Your next choice is to become really well prepared. You’ll need to have a scenario for every possible occasion well in advance. Before any signs or at least at the very first signs of potential need for care. You’ll need to explore your options and have a strategy in place for every possible level of care needed:

-if purchasing helpful pieces of medical equipment is sufficient, know in advance where they can be bought, how long the delivery takes and what are the approximate prices. If possible set up a separate fund for these.

-if a slight support is needed, sometimes with shopping and perhaps driving them to some appointments, you may ask relatives or friends, neighbors if they are willing to help you out.

-if a risk of a fall is very much present, you might want to buy an emergency response system so they can get help right away if they fall or are injured.

-If your parent(s) will live independently for the time being, you can have a security system installed at their home. While it might take some time for them to get used to it, video surveillance is something which could give you and them peace of mind.

-if a more prolonged presence is needed, perhaps ensuring their medical needs are met, you might want to hire an aide for a couple of hours a day (or check local services, a government supported elderly care service, volunteers, etc)

-if permanent, 24 hours a day care is what is needed, then where-in their house or in a facility?

-if in their home, then is the home in its current state suitable?

-are there paid caregiver services available in the area? Can you or your parents afford to hire a companion, or a live-in carer?

-if in a facility, what are the choices? Depending on location, service level, finances.

-what are the legal ways in the country of becoming their medical power of attorney? You’ll need this to be able to discuss their medical issues with their doctors.

-perhaps even a lasting power of attorney

-think of costs which may arise in case of an emergency and work towards having a set fund for this, as well (your last minute plane ticket, transportation or car hire for the time there, unsupported hospital or medical aids costs, etc)

You need to be extremely well-informed about each and every of these points and discuss them well ahead with your parents. It can be uncomfortable to discuss these while your parents are in a good shape, but, trust me, it will save you both an abundance of headache later.

OK, You Did Your Research. What Now?

You’ll still want to have a circle of helpful people, sort of supervisors, who live close to your parent(s) and can “keep an eye” on them, in a good way, so they can spot problems and let you know about them. They can also help you out shortly when needed. Make sure that your parents, their doctor, neighbors and anyone involved in their care know how to reach you.

Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far AwayYou might want to choose a trusted person who you can leave a spare key of your parents’ home to, in case there is an emergency while the house is locked and someone has to get in. If you do not trust anyone that much, find a hiding place outside the house, or install a coded lock on one of the entrance doors. Then you can hand out the code.

But, I Can’t Travel to Visit Every Week

Whether your parents will age in place or move into a facility, they still need someone to check on them regularly. You can again turn to close friends, relatives who live nearby, or local volunteers, church and similar organizations. They are usually just happy to help, but, if you want to, you’ll always find a way to thank them.

Use your visits wisely. While you are there primarily to see your parents and simply be with them, doing whatever you used to do together before and makes you both happy, do not forget to observe. Be alert to changes in temperament, mood, signs of mobility issues, depression, infection, dementia, declining eyesight or hearing.

Talk to people around them, to gather information on how things really are. You could schedule an appointment with their doctor or lawyer or banker if needed.

Naturally, you’ll aim to visit as often as you can, but it is important you learn how to differentiate real emergencies from groundless complaints. Elderly parents sometimes raise an alarm when in reality there is none. When you feel this is the case, it’s perfectly all right to say that you can’t come right now, or that you were just there last week. Ask someone to pop in just in case, but do not let yourself feeling guilty for not going.

In the meantime, you can keep in very close touch-using the regular or a cell phone, video calls on Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, FaceTime-whatever you manage to teach your parent(s) to use. Devices which can be operated remotely are available, too. Your loved ones will be happy to see you, feel more connected with you and you can actually see how they are doing. Sometimes you might call them while the whole family is around, so you can all see and hear each other. This way you can fairly easily maintain the close relationship between you.

And, last, but not least: urgently get rid of which little voice inside your had which says: Whatever I do, it’s never enough, I could have done more.

Final Thoughts

So, we walked through the sensitive topic of caregiving from a distance, for parents and also through doing the same, but without any siblings to rely on. Hopefully I managed to give some support points for the subject which will help you, potential future long distance caregiver, to cope better with the task, when the time comes.

Do you perhaps already have some experience in the field, or any opinion which differs from mine? I’d appreciate if you could share it in the comments, if you do. I’m sure we’ll all learn from it.

And, as always, feel free to reach out should you have any questions and I’ll be happy to give you an answer to the best of my knowledge.

With Love,

Kerryanne

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22 Comments

  1. Your article is very helpful for anyone with ageing parents. I’ve lost both parents now, and as the youngest and one who lived nearest was responsible for keeping an eye on them. Luckily, they had fantastic neighbours who checked on them daily, and I also had the support of my sister who lives in America. As a doctor, she was great for calling the GP and hurrying things up if needed!

    • Thank you Kathy for reading it through even though you sadly can’t make use of it. It is tough when you stay without your parents, but is a blessing if you could take a good care of them and make their days happier.
      All the best
      Kerryanne

  2. Thanks for sharing such an insightful post. There are so many relevant factors that you’ve described here that people often wouldn’t even consider. For many of us it’s an inevitable reality that we’ll need to care for our ageing parents, so this article caters for both near and long-distance scenarios in my opinion.

    Love your page and looking forward to your next article.

  3. Thanks for bringing this topic under our attention!
    My parents are still managing well, but my grand-parents in their 80s are struggling more and more with growing older. In addition to getting more physical complaints, they are more often forgetful (maybe a first sign of dementia?).

    I think it’s important that family members know what to look for and what options you have to get support.

    Kind regards,
    Catherine.

    • I couldn’t agree more on importance of knowing in advance what to expect and prepare accordingly.
      As for the forgetfullness, it depends. DO they forget at the moment but can remember later? Or they can’t remeber even much later? Then it might be a sign of a dementia developing, unfortunately.
      Thank you very much for your comment!

  4. This is hard. Both of my parents are the oldest and going thru this right now, they feel stuck in the city they are in. I am the oldest and I don’t want to feel the same, but I see a lot of what you said happening in their situation. Parents wont ask their children for help and wont show it. It’s a hard thing to figure out without making them feel like the child in the relationship 🙁

    • It is hard. It needs a lot of patience, respect and tactfulness to get to the point where you know what’s going on and whether you are needed. You might find some useful tips on how to approach the question in my previous post
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  5. Hi there,

    I am in this situation for over 10 years. I have moved to another country and even I wasn/t the only child, I was stressed about them every day. I did everything I could to help them, to pay for their bills and food and medications, or to visit them 4-5 times a year.

    I thought that everything is ok with them. They seemed well, so I did not think actually to ask them. My father one night had a heart attack but he survived and then my mom started to complain that she can not see anymore.

    Well, in the last 5 year I went with them to see doctors, and until last year they were fain, with medication for heart and diabetes. Last year my mom comes to visit me in England, and she started to complain that she is having some pain.

    This is how I have found that she is having ovarian cancer, doctors told us she has less than 2-3 months to live. She lived 8 months and this year in May she passed away and I wasn’t able to go home because of the virus thing.

    Now I am stressed because of my dad. It seems it never ends.

    • Dear Oana, it is not easy on you at all. I’m sorry for your loss-it is awful to loose a loved one, let alone so quickly and on top of it, not being able to be there for the send off.
      But 10 years-it is quite a long time to be under a constant stress. You probably are aware that it takes a toll on your own health. When you say you are not the only child, do you mean someone is close enough to take care of your Dad, or check on him?
      I hope you can use some of the tips from the article to organise some help. And, you might want to read the last sentence in the “But, I Can’t Travel to Visit Every Week” section again and embrace this advice particularly.
      Thank you for being here and sharing your story with us.
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  6. Ivan Brozincevic

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful content with us. I like the ideas you presented here and how much effort has been put into this post. Caring for our elders where we are far away is a difficult task. And your post here helps a lot to get some general guidelines to achieve this very successful. Once again, thanks for sharing and keep up the good work with your site.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words. My aim was to offer some ideas on how to ease a bit this really tough task. I’m happy if you find it helpful.
      Please, come back for more when you can.
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  7. Great website and article on Caring for Elderly Parent-When You Are Far-Far Away. This is such a helpful tool for many people. My parents live far away so I’m always dealing with this and your helpful tips will be great to have now. Best wishes.

  8. Satz

    Since the day I got married, I have lived far away from my parents, in distant states and across oceans. That’s just how life works out when you marry into the military. Plane travel has been a regular part of my schedule the last few years. I try to visit my hometown at least once every month or two. I check on my parents and do what I can to insure groceries are bought and maybe some meals stocked in the freezer. I am in the process of setting up an emergency communication system.

    • Life has it’s own ways, doesn’t it? But that’s your life and it is quite right to live it as you like it. It’s not simple, though, as being that far inevitably brings a lot of pre-planning and last minute problems to be solved. Still, I can see from your words that you are on the right path and are doing all you can The emergency communication system is a smart idea and will certainly give you both peace of mind.
      Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  9. This post is just packed with fantastic advice on Caring for the Elderly Parent. Not for just when you are far away. Thank you for that.
    I worked in long term care for a while and after the holidays is when we would see a spike in admissions. The family would come over the holidays to visit and see first hand Mom and Dad weren’t doing so well living at home any longer. It’s easy for them to hide the issues they may be having when the kids aren’t around.
    Really great post packed with information on a very real topic.

    • You are quite right Teresa. Our parents wouldn’t want us to worry about them, so they do intentionally hide their problems, even thinking they are not that big yet. That’s why it is important to have an eye on them, in a nice way, to be aware when to step in. I’m so glad you confirmed it, thank you.
      Thank you also for the very approving and kind comment on my work.
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  10. I have been lucky enough to live closeby when my parents needed help, but I can totally relate to what being distant means. There is an organization in Holland that links far-away living children with similar people near their parents and vice versa. So, you would keep an eye on the parents from the one that is keeping an eye on yours. Uf, I hope it’s clear what I am saying :-S
    Anyway, I thought it was a great idea.

    • Oh, yes, Hannie, it is clear and it really is a great idea. I was able to find several services offering to find a suitable paid carer, or agency, as in the UK, so in the USA, but nothing similar to what you write about. It is worth of researching-perhaps other countries or organizations have something similar. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

  11. Andrey

    Dear Kerryanne.
    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to take towards love, happiness and healthy living. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

    • Thank you very much for these kind words Andrey. I’m happy that you find my website and its content worthy of following.
      You are always welcome back!
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

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