Mom Lives Far Away and Needs Help. Now What?
As more people in our area are receiving their COVID vaccines, it’s safer for people to visit their older loved ones, and many are traveling across the country to do that for the first time in many months. Experts report that many of these families have discovered that their parents, grandparents or other older relatives now need more help being safe at home. These family members are about to join the ranks of long-distance caregivers—a group of people now numbering over 15 million, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
It can be heartbreaking when an older parent or other beloved relative needs help, and we are not nearby to support their needs. If we were there, we could give them a ride to bridge club, come help straighten up their house, and be sure the kitchen was well stocked with nutritious food. It would be an act of love! But when we live at a distance—and more of us do these days—we can spend a lot of time worrying. Our hands-on task list might be shorter than if we lived nearby, but our emotional workload can be sky high!
Families deal with this challenge in different ways. Sometimes senior relatives relocate to be closer to younger family members. Some prefer to stay put, wanting to be where they have long-term ties to the community. Sometimes younger family members even relocate in order to care for older loved ones—but for most of us, that is not desirable or even possible, given our work and other family obligations. This is why many families are very relieved when loved ones decide that a move to a supportive senior living community is the wise choice!
Here are steps to take as you plan for your loved one’s care, even from afar:
Assess your loved one’s situation. Learn all you can about your loved one’s health and living situation from your loved one, from other family members, friends and neighbors, and (with your loved one’s permission), from their doctor and other professionals they see. Early in the process, assure your loved one that they are still in control—which they are, unless they are incapacitated.
Bring in professionals. Elder law attorneys can help with legal and financial matters, such as powers of attorney and estate planning. An aging life care professional (geriatric care manager) can serve as a mediator when family members can’t agree, supervise your loved one’s care, locate resources, and keep you in the loop. Look into supportive senior residences, perhaps independent senior living, assisted living, skilled nursing care or memory care, depending on your loved one’s needs and preferences.
Make a plan and create a team. This can include all the people and professionals above. Be sure your loved one is included in every step of the process. Exchange contact information with everyone. Enlist other family member, have a family meeting, and ask your loved one’s permission for access to their financial and health matters and to receive financial and medical information.
Set up communication channels. Plenty of families today already have a good head start on this one. During the pandemic, they’ve been using video chatting, email, social media and plenty of phone calls to stay in touch. Some say they feel like their loved one’s tech support help desk! Senior living communities also have been helping seniors use these technologies. If that’s just not your loved one’s thing, write letters. And don’t only call to discuss serious topics. Get in the habit of having frequent, relaxed chats while you’re cooking or cleaning up, just like you might in person.
Visit as often as you can. (Note: many senior living residences still have COVID restrictions in place. Be sure to check with staff before planning your visit.) Whether your loved one lives in their own home or in a senior living community, encourage them to create a “to do” list of things you can help with when you arrive. Go along to doctor appointments if possible. If they’re at home, maybe there are maintenance tasks that need doing. Maybe you need to put in a few hours organizing their paperwork. If your loved one has moved to a senior living community, hang some pictures in their apartment or organize their dresser drawers. You’ll want to see how things are going, talk to staff, meet your loved one’s friends, and just hang out to appreciate their home. And don’t forget to schedule some pleasant down time. If your job allows you only limited vacation time, consider taking a trip with your loved one, if they’re able.
Over time, as your loved one’s needs change, your caregiving role may grow. The earlier you have a plan and systems in place, the easier it will be to adapt.
The Alden Network offers health care and residential solutions for seniors to help them function to the best of their ability and live life as independently as possible. This provides tremendous peace of mind for families, as well!