Your job, family, and financial obligations may mean that you and your parents will live far from one another even as they begin to need additional care. When you’re caring for aging parents from a distance, you face additional logistical challenges as well as the added stress of not being on top of the situation every waking moment. We’ll look at measures you can take to ensure your parents receive the best possible care.
1. Download So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving, a publication by the National Institute on Aging. You’ll see you’re not alone, and you’ll gain support from others and learn from their own experiences of caring for aging parents from afar.
2. Call a family meeting with siblings (if any) to determine responsibilities and to decide who can take a set-up trip. Caring for aging parents requires that you first assess their situation. For example, you need to determine if they can safely drive, if they’re taking their medication properly, if they’re paying their bills, etc. NOLO.com provides a complete checklist for assessing your parents’ situation.
3. The Mayo Clinic advises: “In coordination with your loved one and his or her other caregivers, schedule conference calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in your loved one’s health.” Your parents must sign a release with their health care providers.
4. Make contact with your parents’ neighbors, friends, clergy, housekeeper, mail carrier, etc. Many of these people will be willing to help and/or check in regularly with your parents. Make sure everyone has your contact information in case of problems as well as emergencies. FamilyEducation.com suggests programming friends and neighbors’ phone numbers into your parents’ phones.
5. Execute a living will and a health power of attorney (POA) if they aren’t already in place. You can download free forms online or use a reputable online service such as LegalZoom. Their fees are reasonable and the process is quick and easy.
6. Invest in a medical alert system and make sure your parents understand how it works. Knowing that help is one button push away can relieve some of the stress of caring for aging parents from a distance and can provide life-saving assistance when needed.
7. If your parents have a computer, set up Skype so you can make video calls. One video chat is worth many phone calls.
8. Investigate home health services before you need them, and if there’s time, check out several assisted living facilities.
9. Bring home a phone book. You never know when the Internet could experience an outage.
10. FamilyEducation.com also suggests you set up a chore network — people who can mow the lawn, walk the dog, shovel snow, and run errands.
11. When you return home, make frequent phone calls to check on your parents, and Skype them at least once a week. Check in with their friends, neighbors, and doctors as needed.
When you’re caring for aging parents, especially when you live far away, thorough planning is key. Once you have a plan in place and you’ve identified key players, it’s simply a matter of executing the plan incrementally when the time comes.