Tips for Providing Effective Care from a Distance.
Seniors and boomers face many challenges as they near retirement, chief among them is the ability to secure enough savings to help offset social security income, ensuring financial security. There also is the need to determine if downsizing would be beneficial to your retirement goals.
For some seniors and boomers, these decisions are managed by their adult children, who help to navigate the journey toward a successful retirement. This “sandwich generation” often finds itself raising children while helping aging parents, which can be a daunting task. But what can add extra stress to this kind of caregiving arrangement is having aging parents who are not living close in proximity.
Caregiving from a distance poses unique challenges for both the provider and the receiver of such care. Adult children who observe worrisome signs of their parents’ frailty from afar often can feel helpless in dealing with it. In this article, we will provide some tips and tools for long-distance caregiving that are beneficial to both parties.
Contact List and Critical Information
When you are in another state – or even another country – caring for your aging parents can be a challenge. Adult children may feel guilty they are not readily accessible to be present during a situation where their presence is needed; however, there are ways to effectively and efficiently handle any situation that may arise.
The most important thing long-distance caregivers can do is to have a trusted contact person who can be “on the scene” to handle things that may not be manageable from a distance. This could be a neighbor or friend of their parents, a trusted member of the clergy. Make sure the person is able and willing to be available in case of an emergency and know all of their contact information (home, work and cell phone numbers).
Other resources can be of assistance in making sure your loved ones stay safe. The U.S. Postal Service, through the National Association of Letter Carriers, offers a Mail Carrier Alert program in which mail carriers are trained to spot signs of trouble, such as accident or injuries that may otherwise go unnoticed. Check with your parents’ local post office to see if it participates in this program.
Another crucial component to providing long-distance care is to compile all of the critical information about their parents that would be required in any number of situations. Critical information includes, but is not limited to: wills, power of attorney contact information (if it is not yourself or another family member), contact information for legal representation and any documentation expressing their desires for how medical care should be given (including do not resuscitate orders).
Medical records should be as detailed as possible, and include notes on any pre-existing conditions, a list of medications currently being taken, names and numbers for all healthcare professionals from whom they are receiving care and the name and number for their preferred pharmacy.
A list of all insurance policies – medical, vehicle, home and life – should also be easily accessible, as should the names and contact information for all utility companies.
It would be a good idea for the aging parents to keep these documents in a secure location that is easily accessible by you or a designated person acting on your behalf in your absence. If the information is stored in a safe or other locked location, make sure you know the combination or otherwise can access it. If possible, keep photocopies of some documents in your possession. They may not be legal to use, but they can be handy for quick reference in emergency situations.
Other resources that may be of assistance to long-distance caregivers includes:
- Eldercare Locator – assists in finding reputable caregivers for a variety of needs.
- National Association of Social Workers – can assist in finding a social worker who specializes in eldercare.
- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers – this organization helps with care plans and can be vital in convincing seniors and boomers that it may be time to rethink their home environment and current levels of care.
Plan Productive Visits
If you only are able to visit your aging parents once or twice a year, it is important to be as productive as possible while you are there.
Prior to each visit, speak with your parents – and with any friends or family who have frequent contact with them – and draft a list of items that require your immediate attention that only can be handled in person. This can include medical appointments, household repairs and time to sort through clutter in the home (old mail and papers, expired food items). Pay special attention to any safety hazards in their living space, such as loose rugs, missing handrails on stairs and insufficient lighting.
If your parents currently are living in their own home, use visits to determine if their living arrangements need adjusting. Seniors and boomers who need to downsize often may not recognize the warning signs; adult children can be the motivating factor in helping parents to downsize to a more manageable living environment. If, for instance, you spend all of your visits doing maintenance on their home, it may be time to downsize to a senior living community that offers those services. If you notice a decline in your parents’ health or personal care, those also are warning signs that they may no longer be able to care for themselves and alternatives should be discussed.
Encouraging aging parents to check out their housing options – retirement communities, assisted living and other senior-focused living – can be an essential part of any visit.
During visits, also make sure to carve out quality time to spend together just enjoying one another’s company. If every visit turns into a “to do” list, you will quickly come to resent them, as will your aging parents.
Don’t Forget About Yourself
Regardless of whether it’s done in person or from a distance, caregiving can be a stressful experience. Among the ways in which caregiving can affect the caregiver includes an increase in stress-related health conditions such as heart disease and depression.
If you find yourself getting burned out, seek help. Signs that your caregiving role is taking an unhealthy toll on you include feeling overwhelmed or worried all the time; feeling tired; excessive weight gain or loss; and abusing alcohol or other substances. Talk to your healthcare provider, who can assess what steps should be taken. Also work to build a support system for yourself consisting of people who can either help share the burden of your caregiving role, or just be a “sounding board” to help you unload some of the stress.
To learn more about long-distance caregiving, consider attending our next Upside of Downsizing conference, being held September 30 in Portland. Additional information and registration instructions are available here.