Long distance caregiving is a burden full of unique challenges. As a caregiver, how can you provide love and support when you live across the country? How can you manage the care of your loved one when you’re physically not available? Fortunately, Harry Cline is back with us today with some strategies for managing long distance caregiving.
Harry is the creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. He is a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle. He is more than familiar with the challenges and rewards of caregiving and understands the role is often overwhelming for those just starting out. And if you find yourself on the precipice of having to uproot your life to provide care, keep reading. Harry has some suggestions that can hopefully give you some peace of mind while you navigate the complications of a possible relocation.
As adults, we know that there is a time when we may be called upon to care for our parents. However, what happens when that obligation overlaps with your own family’s needs, such as when your children are in school, or you are financially unable to devote yourself to full-time care? The concern may be even greater when you live far away and your elderly parents won’t move closer or you can’t go to them.
What You Can Do
As a long-distance caregiver, you can’t physically be there to provide hands-on assistance, but there are still plenty of things you can do to help. The National Institute on Aging explains that you can pay bills, offer emotional support, and provide updates to friends and family.
One of the most important things you can do is to ensure their basic needs are taken care of. This might mean hiring a housekeeper to keep things clean if they suffer from limited mobility. A tidy home will benefit their health and prevent dangerous tripping hazards. Using an online search tool, you can find a housekeeper, ask for a quote, and see if they will allow you to pay on your parents’ behalf. Similarly, you can schedule lawn care and other essential home maintenance tasks that your parents are unable to do themselves.
When your elderly parents need more in-depth assistance, a home aide can provide companionship and help them take their medications, eat, go to the bathroom, and handle other daily needs. Care.com gives you access to a nationwide directory of non-medical personal caregivers. Many of these professional attendants are available for overnight care and can help with transportation to and from doctor appointments.
In addition to their daily care needs, one of the most pressing concerns for long-distance caregivers is keeping their loved ones safe. There are many ways to achieve this, and a combination of minor home improvements and tech gear may be all it takes to put your mind at ease. A video-enabled home security system will allow you to monitor their activities no matter where you are. ADT—along with major home security firms—offers smart products and video surveillance for a monthly fee. Similarly, Amazon and Google’s home hubs can double as instant video chatting devices. Amazon’s Echo Show, for example, may be configured so that you can “drop in” on your loved one any time. When you can visit, add grab bars to the bathtub and install motion-activated lights in the hallway.
No Loose Ends
Going a step further, you can take over your loved one’s finances by setting up direct deposit of their Social Security check and online bill payments for the mortgage and utilities. Their home health aide or a helpful neighbor can get the mail from the mailbox and alert you of any non-recurring bills, such as insurance co-payments or quarterly pest control. You can usually call these companies and take care of the charges over the phone.
If you can’t have an onsite caregiver, look for a local food service that delivers to the elderly. Meals on Wheels, your family member’s local community center, or their church can ensure they have healthy meals delivered. This is especially important if they can no longer cook for themselves.
Finally, when you can visit, establish a relationship with the neighbors. Many police precincts have community programs, often run by citizens that can further put a set of hands within reach when your parents need it the most. Make a copy of their front door key and leave it with a trusted neighbor.
Caring for an aging parent or grandparent from a distance is not always easy. But it is possible, even if you work full time or are yourself physically unable to provide care. Things such as hiring a housekeeper and having prepared meals delivered are small actions that can make a huge impact on their health, well-being, and independence.
Moral of the story: Don’t be like me. I was in denial and hoping the situation would get better on its own. Obviously it didn’t. Instead things escalated until I was forced into an unprepared moved to South Florida with no such assistance in place. If I had to do it over again, I would implement all the above suggestions. Any support in these matters would have allowed for a smoother transition becoming a full-time caregiver while also constructing the beginnings of an infrastructure for support. Hiring help for such matters can be extremely personal and it’s helpful to remember that an aid or service is not just for your loved ones. Such help will alleviate some of the myriad of concerns on your plate and greatly help your personal mental health.
Do you have experience with long-distance caregiving? I’d love to hear about strategies you’ve implemented to help ensure safety for your loved ones.
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