By Claire Wentz
Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers
It’s hard living far away and feeling like there’s nothing you can do to care for an aging parent. But while distance makes it harder, there’s no reason it should stop you from being involved in your parent’s care. Here’s how you can make your parent’s well-being a priority no matter where you live.
Assess what you can do
Instead of feeling guilty about what you can’t do for your aging parent, focus on what you can. If relying on local relatives for hands-on care, these are meaningful roles you can take on:
- Coordinating personal care, housekeeping, meal preparation, and other care giving roles across the care giving team.
- Managing finances and bills.
- Scheduling routine medical care and arranging transportation.
- Managing annual Medicare enrollment.
- Performing a safety audit and coordinating home modifications.
- Paying for respite care.
If relying on paid caregivers for help, take on the role of screening, hiring, and managing your parent’s care staff as well. You also need a way to communicate with the care team so you stay apprised of any changes in your parent’s health.
Communication is the most important element of long-distance care giving. As a caregiver, you not only need to stay in touch with your senior loved one, you also need to keep open lines of communication between you and the rest of the care team.
Apps like CareZone and CaringBridge simplify caregiver communication by putting information like medication lists, health metrics, calendars, and care journals all in one place. If not using an app, consider Google Docs or another tool that allows multiple people to collaborate on documents.
For staying in touch with your loved one, set an aging parent up with a cell phone, rather than relying on a landline. This also allows caregivers to keep tabs on seniors no matter where they go. For extra peace of mind, get your senior love one a medical alert device so they can be connected with emergency services if they experience a fall, heart attack, seizure, or stroke.
Have an Emergency Plan
Although you’re a long-distance caregiver, there may be times when you’re needed at your loved one’s side. Designate a local relative to take charge in emergencies and consider making that person a health care proxy so they can make medical decisions if your loved one is incapacitated. Then, make childcare, pet care, and work arrangements so that if you need to depart in a hurry, you know everything is taken care of at home.
Watch for Warning Signs
It may be your parent’s wish to age at home, but as a caregiver, it’s up to you to recognize when assisted living is the safer choice. When talking to your loved one over the phone or video or reading your care team’s notes, look out for warning signs that they’re no longer thriving at home. These include:
- Unintended weight loss or gain.
- Symptoms of depression or other mood changes.
- Disheveled appearance.
- Missed medications or unpaid bills.
- Frequent falls and injuries.
Look Out for Elder Abuse
There’s another reason that home may no longer be the best place for a senior loved one: elder neglect and abuse. One in ten seniors experience elder abuse, and seniors with family caregivers face the greatest risk. As a long-distance caregiver, you play a key role in preventing and monitoring for elder abuse. Since caregivers with low social support are more prone to elder abuse, make sure you’re checking in on your fellow caregivers as well as your aging parent. And keep an eye out for signs of elder abuse and neglect, like poor personal hygiene, an unkempt home, bedsores, and unusual financial activity.
You may not be present for the day-to-day stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play a meaningful role in your aging parent’s care. In fact, the jobs a long-distance caregiver takes on are some of the most important! From making sure your parent’s finances are in order to monitoring for signs of elder abuse, these roles are a critical piece of the care giving puzzle.