By: Judah Gutwein, for Regency Nursing & Post-acute Rehabilitation Centers
Challenges and Strategies for Caring for an Aging Parent Who Does Not Live Nearby
With more people moving away from the towns where they were raised and more retirees choosing to spend their golden years in locales with warmer climates or lower costs of living, today’s families tend to be farther apart than ever before. So, when distant parents begin to show signs that they are no longer able to care for themselves or adequately handle the responsibilities of day-to-day living, ensuring their continued well-being can pose significant challenges for their adult children. If you are facing this growing problem, the following information will help you better understand the situation and take appropriate action.
How Far is too Far?
Parents don’t need to be hundreds of miles away to be out of reach. If they live far enough away that you can’t easily get to them on at least a weekly basis, they might as well be in another country.
A lot depends on how well your loved ones are still able to care for themselves. If they are relatively independent and socially active, a weekly phone call and the occasional visit may be sufficient to relieve any concerns you may have. However, if they live alone and have medical issues, the picture changes dramatically. Suddenly you need to be prepared for anything.
It is a good idea to make a checklist like the one below, you’ll get a much better idea of the steps to take and kinds of assistance you may need to look for.
If your loved one has friends or other relatives who live nearby, you may want to enlist their aid in keeping an eye on things. The nephew across town, or the downstairs neighbor might be able to check on them every day or two just to see that everything is okay.
Another good resource for ongoing personal support is the local place of worship. Perhaps a local clergyman or member of your loved one’s church or temple group would be able to pay them a visit on a regular basis.
Often, seniors living alone suffer from loneliness, or simply lack things to do to occupy their time. This is especially true of seniors who have recently lost a spouse or close friend and suddenly find themselves alone. Along with the support of local clergy, friends and family, they may benefit from joining a local senior center for some needed social interaction.
However, if your loved one has ongoing medical conditions that must be monitored and require regular medication, you might need to engage the services of a part-time home health aide who can visit on a regular basis to make sure medications are being taken properly and that health problems are under control.
Investigating Local Resources
You may be surprised at the range of resources available to older adults in today’s communities. From senior centers to Meals on Wheels, to adult day care, there’s help available to address a wide variety of issues and circumstances. The U.S. Administration on Aging offers an Eldercare Locator that can help you find these valuable services anywhere in the country, many of them free and with no income requirements.
When to Choose Long-Term Care
The time may come when a home health aide or a caring neighbor simply isn’t enough. If health problems are causing frequent trips to the emergency room, or if your loved one is showing signs of increased disorientation, depression, or the inability to care for him or herself, it may be time to seek other options outside the home. If you are not in a position to care for your aging relative yourself, and there is no one else in your family who is willing or able to do so - don’t feel guilty, there are many fine senior care alternatives available to you.
In recent years, senior care has developed and evolved, creating new and better options, and adjusting to meet many different needs – the health of the older adult, his or her mental capabilities, the desire for social interaction, and the family’s ability to participate in the care. As a result, the long-term care decision, though difficult, can ensure that your loved one is safe, secure and living life to the fullest extent possible.
Here is a brief checklist that may help you to decide whether your loved one needs more assistance than can be provided at home:
Preparing for Emergencies
Even if your parent is in good health, in the event of an emergency, you should be prepared to react fast and deal with any outcome. The following steps and legal documents can prevent a lot of headaches and confusion when an emergency occurs:
Resources for Long-Distance Caregivers
Once you realize that your aging relative needs more help with day-to-day living than you alone can provide, hold a family meeting to try to divide up the responsibilities and discuss how you can work together to best ensure your loved one’s health security. If the burden of ongoing care falls to you, there are several resources you can turn to for support at the local level:
To locate agencies and resources in your loved one’s area, you can go online or consult the local telephone directory. National organizations that work on behalf of seniors may also be able to point you to local chapters for assistance.
Many long distance caregivers also enlist the aid of geriatric case managers to oversee and help deal with the ongoing medical and financial concerns of their loved ones. These professional consultants act as medical, legal and financial advocates for your parents when you can’t be there. This is a popular option for aging parents who don’t want their children to be burdened with the difficult medical and financial details of their care in later life. To find a geriatric care manager in your loved one’s area, contact The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at 520-881-8008.