Your dad fell and broke his hip. He spent a few weeks in rehab and is now finally heading home. But you live an hour away and aren’t sure how he'll do back on his own again. Should you offer to hire home care or take a week off work and help out yourself?
If you are taking care of a parent from far away, you’re probably well-aware of the guilt that often haunts long-distance caregivers: Am I visiting, calling, doing enough? First, remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can. Second, read on for long-distance caregiving tips from an expert.
6 Long-Distance Caregiving Tips
Taking care of a parent from far away? Here’s how you can keep on top of their care and ensure they remain safe and well — even if you’re miles away.
1. Pick Up the Phone
“If you can’t be in the same room with your parent, the best way to make sure they’re getting what they need is to ask them how you can support them from afar,” says Jennifer Leeder, Director of Sales for Highgate Senior Living.
Start by asking two simple questions: “What do you need?” and “What do you want?” Understanding what matters to your mom or dad can be a big help down the road, and asking them sooner rather than later could help them communicate with their doctor, attorney, real estate agent, family, and friends.
2. Enlist Support
The phone can be a great tool for connecting with your parent and showing them that you love and support them — but it isn’t the best way to tell whether they need help handling daily activities.
“It can be difficult to gauge how parents are coping from a phone call,” Leeder says. “They may not want to worry you or may be embarrassed to admit that they cannot do everything they used to.”
So ask your parent if they have a friend or neighbor who they trust and would be OK with coming around on a regular basis. For instance, maybe a church deacon would be willing to stop by once a week with a warm meal. Or perhaps a neighbor is already swinging by every few days to share a cup of coffee.
“Ask if they might be able to check on your parent and help you understand what’s going on with them on a daily basis,” Leeder says. “That way if something is going on, they can call you with any concerns.”
3. Keep in Touch with Your Loved One’s Providers
Another place you can go for long-distance caregiving support is your loved one’s health care providers.
“Getting a complete and accurate medical diagnosis for physical or cognitive problems is very important,” Leeder says. “Be sure your parent or loved one is getting their proper medical exams as needed.”
Talk to your parent about assigning a power of attorney, if they haven’t already, and ask them if they would be OK with you scheduling conference calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in their health. If they’re hesitant, you could mention that you know that many people, including yourself, experience some amount of anxiety when they go to the doctor.
That’s why it might be nice for you to be there, even if only virtually, so they can have someone else there to ask questions about treatment options, symptoms, and anything else that’s a concern.
4. Visit as Often as You Can
Again, chances are that your mom isn’t going to come right out and say that she’s afraid to drive at night and your dad isn’t going to divulge that keeping up with the yard work is a struggle.
That’s why it’s important to visit as often as you can. “It is very common for adult children to recognize their parents need care after visiting and recognizing they may not have gotten the full story over the phone,” Leeder says.
As you prepare for your visit, talk to your loved one ahead of time, and figure out the top item or two they would like your help with. Come with one or two items of your own as well.
While you’re there, do a little detective work to uncover possible signs that support or help is needed. Here are some things Leeder suggests looking for:
- How does the home look and smell? Are they able to keep up with housekeeping and maintenance needs where they are living, including managing the property outside?
- Are they able to get out to the grocery store? What meals are they preparing and are they getting adequate hydration?
- Are they bathing or showering? If so, how often, and do they still feel safe and steady doing this alone?
- Are they appropriately taking their medications, and at the right time?
- Are they able to pay their own bills on time and budget?
- Is their home safe? Are alarms tested? Are rugs and flooring secure? Are there grab bars if needed? Is the thermostat working, and is the house set at the proper temperatures?
- Do they have emotional support? Someone else they can reach out to and talk with?
Along the way, try to keep the focus on love, not duty. Remember that more important than any task on your list is actually spending time visiting. Staying connected to family helps improve everyone’s sense of well-being, and that sense of well-being will help alleviate any thoughts of guilt that can often drive a deeper wedge between you and your parent.
5. Seek Local Resources
When you notice signs that your aging parent or relative needs help, it is important to know what steps to take next.
“Educate yourself on the care and services available,” Leeder says. “Although every area is unique in the type of services that are offered, a good place to start is Eldercare Locator. The National Council on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association are a few other sites that offer excellent resources.
If you have family or friends nearby who can help with some duties, ask for help. If this is not an option, you may have to hire home help or start exploring other options.
6. Deal with Feelings of Guilt
Caregiving is not easy for anyone. When you don’t live where the care is needed, it may be especially hard to feel that what you are doing is enough and that what you are doing is important. It often is.
Acceptance is key. Know what your strengths are as a long-distance caregiver, and accept that there are real limits to what you can do from afar. You may not be able to visit your loved one
regularly, but you can call, arrange a video chat, write, or find other personal ways to show you care.
If you’re still struggling with feelings of guilt, download our eBook How to Cope with Caregiver Guilt When Deciding on Long-Term Care.