If you help an aging loved one stay in their homes, and you live more than an hour’s drive, you’re considered a long-distance caregiver, according to the National Institute on Aging. And more of us are playing this role as our parents age. In a survey released by AARP, 87 percent of adults over 65 want to remain in their homes or communities as they age.
The role of long-distance caregiver requires a lot of communication – not just for the health needs and household upkeep, but also to identify priorities and to find resources to support goals.
“Understand and act on what matters most to your parent. For example, if someone is very independent, they like to call the shots, appeal to that. Try to involve them in the process and give them options,” suggests Rani Snyder, program director at The John A. Hartford Foundation in New York. “Or if they’re very conscious of finances, be aware of that.”
Even after clear communication and coordination of resources, things can still go wrong. Whether your loved one is across the state or the nation, handling the resources needed at a distance can present emotional and logistical challenges. Below are our tips to help you address those challenges.
Create a list of reliable local services and resources to keep the home in shape. Identify those chores that others can assist with such as dog walkers, lawn services, grocery/meal delivery, or laundry services. It’s also beneficial to find plumbers, electricians and general contractors before you need them.
Needs will vary based on the current situation, so check in regularly to identify if things need to change.
- If you don’t have contacts in the area, reach out to senior centers, the chamber of commerce or places of worship to see if they have recommendations. Check online for reviews of services provided.
- Caregiver support organizations also provide resources and ideas. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging offers this booklet.
- Sometimes having a point-of-contact that lives locally is the best fit. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager to oversee things locally while keeping you in the loop. Informal assistance, like a responsible neighbor willing to check in as needed, or someone within your network that you know and trust, might work best.
Technology Is Your Friend
Technology, like mounted cameras, devices that warn of a fall, motion detectors and refrigerator cameras, can offer daily insight. Don’t be afraid to use it!
“We set up a camera to monitor (Dad’s) living room and kitchen table,” says one caregiver. “We would check periodically from our phones, especially when we knew he would be sitting at the table reading his paper.” In addition to their own peace of mind, the cameras made her father feel less alone.
Care for Yourself
Supporting another’s health and independence from afar can be exhausting. You may face additional feelings of guilt or pressure. Don’t overlook your own side of the situation. Your experience might include:
- Being overburdened with complaints, guilt or unrealistic demands
- Time consuming efforts negatively impacting professional life or family
- Traveling back and forth much more than anticipated
Remind yourself of what’s possible and what the win-win is for you, your loved one and your family … and try to stay within those boundaries. Caring for yourself allows you to be more present with your loved ones.
Remain flexible. If one method isn’t working, don’t hesitate to start a conversation about hiring additional help or trying a new arrangement.
Signs a Different Arrangement Might Be Needed
Despite all your efforts, a more assisted-living arrangement may become necessary. Here are signs to watch for:
- Increased cognitive decline
- Lack of reliability with eating, hygiene or daily activities
- Decreasing mobility, lack of coordination, more frequent falls
- Signs of depression: excessive sleeping, reclusive behavior, declining interests, etc.
Make a list of new options and discuss them with your parent and any other family members to see what might help address the problems. Remember that a change in the arrangement is not an indication that you failed as a long-distance caregiver.
Having open and frequent communication is key, but that’s not the only thing needed. Knowing the local resources, using technology and not losing your own perspective can assist. What other factors are key? Share your experiences being a long-distance caregiver below.