If you live an hour or more away from your elderly loved one in Assisted Living care, think of yourself as a “long-distance caregiver.” According to the National Alliance for Caregiving,approximately 15 percent of the 34 million caregivers in the United States fall into this category.
However, even as a long-distance caregiver, you can stay on top of your loved one’s care by keeping these helpful tips in mind.
Organize Important Information
Compile a contact list of friends, family, physicians, pharmacies, and other caregivers. Save the contacts to your phone, and keep additional copies of the list in easily accessible locations for both you and your loved one. You can also share copies of the list with other friends and family in case of an emergency.
Additionally, organize the following paperwork:
- Birth certificate
- Military, medical, and education records
- Sources of income and investments
- Trusts and financial investments
- Bank accounts and credit card info
- Insurance policies
- Medication list and pharmacies
- Social security and Medicare info
Collaborate with your parent to come up with an emergency care plan. Finalize powers of attorney, wills, trusts, and end-of-life care. While you may initially feel uncomfortable with these discussions, it’s much better to have end-of-life care plans in place before the onset of an illness.
Keep in Touch
Do not let the distance between you and your parent interfere with your relationship. Maintain communication with frequent phone calls and text messages. Take advantage of Facebook, Skype, and other social media tools to keep each other updated on your lives. Studies have shown that seniors who use these tools feel less isolated and more self-competent.
Also, schedule meetings and conference calls with doctors, nurses, and staff from the Assisted Living community to stay updated on your loved one’s health. Check in with them regularly.
Create a Safe Environment
You can ease your long-distance caregiving concerns by making sure your parent feels as safe and comfortable as possible.
Modify your loved one’s home to meet their safety needs if necessary. Here are some things to consider:
- Watch for tripping hazards, such as rugs, loose cords, etc.
- Make sure the doorways and rooms can accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, if applicable
- Arrange furniture to create open and unobstructed walkways
- Keep the walkways well lit and lamps easily accessible
- Decorate to your parent’s liking and comfort
- Check the smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and other safety devices
Share the Responsibility
If possible, ask siblings and other close family members to help take care of your loved one. Family members can split responsibilities and visits based on each other’s location or finances.
For example, ask the nearest family member to conduct more in-person visits, while those further away help with administrative tasks, such as organizing bill payments. Maintain open and direct lines of communication with each other to avoid conflict.
Take Care of Yourself
Caregiving is physically and mentally demanding, even at long distances. Remember to take care of yourself and focus on what you can provide. Continue to eat well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and socialize with friends.
Stay connected with family and friends who can offer encouragement. Continue to see your physician for regular checkups and immunizations. Remember: you can’t take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first.
Make the Most of Visits
Since you’ll make fewer visits, try to enjoy the time you do spend with your loved one and use the time productively. With each visit, take the opportunity to assess whether or not the community continues to meet their needs.
Talk to your parent and the senior living staff about their daily routine. Ask about their social life. Inspect the cleanliness of their home and take note of their personal appearance and hygiene.
Ask for Professional Help
Do not take on the burden alone. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a support network. Whether you contact a counselor or a support group, these individuals can provide emotional support, caregiving strategies, and understanding in your time of need. To find online or in-person support groups, contact your local Agency on Aging.
Keep in mind that your loved one’s needs will change over time. A social worker who specializes in eldercare or a geriatric care manager can assist with planning for your loved one. You can locate other help options near you via the FCA’s Family Care Navigator.