In today’s world, it’s more common than ever to live far from family. Whether due to job opportunities, personal preference, or other obligations, more and more of us are living far from our aging parents and loved ones. This can be stressful, especially if your senior loved ones start to experience worsening health problems, can no longer drive or prepare meals, or suffer from dementia or other memory-related issues. These are all challenging obstacles, and you may feel helpless or guilty that you can’t be there in person for your loved ones. But it’s important to remember that help is available, and, with a little planning and knowledge, you can reduce some of the stress both you and your loved ones feel. Here’s how.
Assess what is needed
Talk with your loved ones and try to get an idea of what type and level of help they need. For example, your parents might be able to prepare meals with little trouble but struggle with making it to medical appointments. Here are some questions to help get the conversation started.
- Does your loved one need home health care, such as medication management or supervised medical appointments?
- Do they need help with daily personal care, such as toileting, mobility, or bathing?
- Do they need transportation for medical and other appointments?
- Do they need home safety additions, such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars?
- Do they need help with meals, including shopping, preparing, and cooking food?
- Do they need help with chores such as laundry and cleaning?
- Do they need help with finances or legal assistance?
- Do they need opportunities to get out and socialize with others or spend time outdoors?
Be honest about what you can do
It’s normal to want to help your aging loved ones as much as possible, but it’s also important to acknowledge that you’re only human and can only do so much as a long-distance caregiver. It’s more than OK to ask for help. Having someone close by to check on your family member or loved one can provide peace of mind for everyone.
Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to determine what you’ll reasonably be able to do.
- What are your strengths? For example, if you’re good with money, it might make sense for you to manage your loved one’s finances. If you’re naturally organized, you could schedule and coordinate appointments and maintain important documents.
- How much time can you commit to? Most of us want to help as much as possible, but it’s important to remember that your needs matter, too. Be honest about how much time you can reasonably spend visiting, talking on the phone, and performing other needed tasks for your loved ones (such as coordinating care and managing finances or medical appointments, for example).
- What things can you find someone local to help with? As much as we’d like to be there ourselves, it’s important to acknowledge that your loved ones may need more help than you can provide as a long-distance caregiver. Whether you have a local community member or organization provide services, or hire an in-home senior care agency, having additional help that is nearby and readily available can provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Hold a family meeting
Although you may not always agree, family is an important source of support, and open, honest communication can go a long way toward meeting your aging loved one’s needs.
Whether it’s via Skype or Zoom, in person, or over the phone, meet as a family to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it. Make sure that everyone understands your loved one’s needs and what he or she wants. If possible, make plans that accommodate everyone’s strengths and schedules. By doing this, you ensure that all family members are responsible for whatever they can manage and understands exactly what to do. Once you have your plan established, remember to keep everyone updated if there are any issues or changes.
Keep in touch
No matter who is providing home health care, it’s important to keep in touch with caregivers, as well as your loved ones themselves. Phone calls and visits, when possible, help keep relationships strong. Technology can help as well. If your loved one is unfamiliar with using platforms such as email and social media or communication tools such as Zoom or Skype, a caregiver can help him or her navigate these great ways of staying close across the miles.
Know where to go for help
Many resources are available at a local level and online and provide valuable information about aging, home health care, and related issues. Whether your loved one needs occasional check-in phone calls, transportation, or more intensive medical oversight, in-home senior care can help.
Here are some additional resources to help you.
- National Institute on Aging website
- Eldercare Locator, 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
- Family Care Navigator
- Your state government’s website
Distance is an obstacle, but it’s not an impossible one. With a little planning, organization, and help, you can be assured that your loved one is well taken care of for years to come.