As some of you may know, I started the journey of caregiving several years prior to moving back to South Florida to care for my folks. I was living in Massachusetts and was utterly in denial about the situation back home. Having only just begun my journey into "adulting" I was somewhat naive as to how avoidance typically breeds more problems then it ever fixes. As you might imagine, nothing got fixed. I was making frequent trips to Florida to check-up on things only to escape back to Massachusetts and ignorantly live by the expression, "out of sight, out of mind".
Things began to escalate. Stress was getting the best of me and it was manifesting in ways I could no longer ignore or disguise. I lost a noticeable amount of weight and perhaps more concerning, I lost my voice. I went through strange bouts of laryngitis that would last for months at time. The muscles around my throat were so tight from being constantly verklempt, that the persistent laryngitis started to interfere with my work. My professional life was falling apart because my personal life was falling apart and I hadn't even a smidge of a plan in place. Long story short, everything about my life change abruptly. And I mean EVERYTHING!
My naivety left me crippled and I frequently think back to how different I might have found my circumstances if I had only prepared a bit more. I think a transition would still have been inevitable but I can't help wondering if life might have been easier had I taken incremental steps toward addressing my aging parents' needs. Baby steps to address challenges from afar might have given me more time to pack-up my belonging, leave my job with two weeks notice, and perhaps most importantly, say good-bye to my beloved friends and community in MA that I had built my life around. I left my "life" in a state of emergency (you can read about that here) and had to sift through the mess of pieces to restore order for my folks all while allowing chaos to consume the life that I abandoned. I was surrounded by wreckage which is why I am so happy to introduce you to Claire Wentz, the creator of caringfromafar.com. She is the author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers which I can only imagine will be a "life" saver when it is released. Claire is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years. Specifically, she is interested in providing assistance and support to those caregivers who do not live near their loved ones. Below are a few of her tips on how to pull-off long distance caregiving...
Seeing our parents become more frail with age is difficult. Their minds and bodies may not be as capable as they once were, and sometimes we don’t live close by to help. What can you do when mom and dad are far away and they need your assistance?
Growing older and moving farther...
Trying to help from a distance can be daunting, and it’s a challenge more of us face than ever before. Research shows that since the turn of the century our 65 and older population grew twice as fast as other age groups, and on top of that, families are more spread out than they used to be. The good news is there are many ways you can provide care even from afar, making life happier and healthier for your aging parents.
1. Share Information
You will find it helpful to get important information from your parents before facing a crisis. Ask your parents to share with you their essential information and record it in an easily retrievable place. You can start a notebook or computer document with their vital phone numbers, emails, medical data, and banking records. Something as simple as a three ring binder or a spreadsheet may be all you need. Be sure to include current prescription and pharmacy information, as well as neighbors’ contact information. There are health-monitoring devices that can be installed in your loved-one’s home to help keep track of their medication schedules as well as their daily activity. Caregivers can access this information from a website to determine if there are any issues or schedule disruptions.
While you’re at it, arranging direct deposit for mom and dad may be helpful, or you may want to set up online banking for them so you can help from the comfort of your own computer. You can even establish automatic payments for utilities or other routine bills.
Now is also a good time to consider preparing and recording legal documents such as a power of attorney. You or your parents may not feel ready for that, but you are better off planning ahead rather than waiting for a crisis.
2. Enable Transportation Measures
Your parents most likely want to stay active, but may need some assistance from you. This can be complicated if they have physical limitations, especially when you are a long-distance caregiver. How do you help your parents keep up with their doctor visits, much less their social lives? Fortunately, there are several options available. Many communities are instituting senior shuttle services, taxi voucher programs, public transportation, and volunteer services. Contact the agency on aging in your parents’ hometown, or check with some national resources for help. Trained, professional assistance is available for your mom or dad who can’t travel alone, such as parents who are wheelchair-bound or need oxygen. You should write down questions you want to ask before calling the agency so you can cover all of your concerns.
3. Housekeeping and Maintenance Assistance
Keeping up with the house, lawn, and other chores that once were basic may become physically challenging for your aging mom or dad. A visit once a week from a housekeeper or a routine meal delivery may be a huge help to your parents. Don’t forget they may need help with the outside of the home, too.
Remember that handling heavy equipment may be cumbersome for your elderly parents. Also working outside on a hot day can cause seniors to overheat. As we age, our bodies have more trouble managing heat. Setting up help for mowing and other basic lawn care can relieve a physical burden for your parents and eliminate these concerns. If your parents live in a climate with winter snow, also consider a snow removal service. Professional services are available that would cover both lawn care and snow clearing, or you may want to check in with the neighbors to see if a teen could lend a hand with mowing and shoveling.
Distances can be overcome...
Even if mom and dad live far away, you have many ways to help them. Be sure to line up all their important information and keep it handy. Set up organized systems to help with their finances and medical concerns, and be ready if you need legal documentation. Arrange to keep them active and mobile through area services. And you can establish help for them in and around the house. Taking these steps will help you keep your parents happy and healthy, even when you have to aid them from far away.
*Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers by Claire Wentz is under review and currently awaiting it's release date. Stay tuned for future announcements!
Luckily, the age of technology is enabling long-distance caregiving in ways that previously have been unthinkable. There are apps and websites full of resources to help anyone searching for caregiving assistance but it's important to recognize that these tools only comfort those caregivers that put in the work. Do your research and don't wait when it comes to gathering the information. It's overwhelming in the moment so prepare your game plan early. Know which resources you will call upon months before you need them and talk to loved ones frequently to best understand their needs.
Do you have any experience with long-distance caregiving? Comment with all your pro tips cause I certainly don't have much to share in this department but this information is desprately needed If you want to know how not to do this, well then I got you! But there are a vast many of folks facing this challenge so comment with the intel! We need your knowledge.