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.
I 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
-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
-bathing, having a shower
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)
-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.
You 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.
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.
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