How to care for your aging parents from a distance
Concern about mom or dad’s health and well-being is top of mind for many baby boomers today. Worrisome signs of your parent’s frailty, progressive memory loss or the decline in health require more and more of your help and attention. But what if you live a good distance away? Whether you live an hour away, in a different state, or maybe even in another country, caregiving at a distance presents very real challenges.
No longer just a devoted daughter or son, you’re now what the professionals in the aging field call a “long-distance caregiver.” Thrust into what is often a new world of intricate responsibilities, you may find it hard to see the personal rewards ahead. But they are there, as is the help available to assist you on this caregiving journey.
There is no one right way to be a caregiver; everyone’s situation is different. You will find that, among a host of things, family dynamics, financial resources and the ability of your parent(s) to provide guidance for the support that they desire will shape your situation.
You can expect your caregiving responsibilities to include, at a minimum, two key functions: information gatherer (from your parent[s], websites, books, word of mouth, etc.) and coordinator of services (contacting potential service providers, scheduling, coordinating payment, monitoring medical care). Do plan on traveling and spending some time on the phone to arrange care and services.
It will help you immensely if, before there is a crisis, your parent(s) provide you with information to locate their important records, phone numbers, email addresses and other essential contact information. If a crisis has already occurred, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury, this information is still important to gather, but it may require more detective work on your part.
One organization to contact to find an attorney knowledgeable about estate planning or with special training in elder law is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
If you feel overwhelmed at any point, never hesitate to call in a friend or professional to help. An objective advisor knowledgeable about Medicare and Medicaid can be immensely helpful in sorting out health care eligibility and coverage. A social worker (National Association of Social Workers) or geriatric care manager (National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers) can facilitate a family meeting to help prepare a care plan and/or deal with family dissension. No one can master everything, not even the people who are experts in their field. The solution lies in putting together a team and using each team member’s strengths — including yours.
To help you get started, here are a few key tips to keep in mind:
The sudden realization of your new role as a caregiver is likely to be stressful. How can you be both a caring daughter or son and the coordinator of a multitude of tasks required when taking on the day-to-day responsibilities of a loved one? You may feel overwhelmed and isolated. In reality, you have lots of company. Approximately 76 million of us are baby boomers, many with parents who are approaching a time in their life that will require aid and assistance. We know that an estimated 43.5 million Americans provide or manage care for a relative or friend 50+ years or older. And this number is growing every day.
The good news is that with so many of us involved in care from a distance, there’s lots of information to help. Here are a few additional guides offering checklists and specific tips to help you in your long-distance caregiving journey.
More Information & Resources
Family Caregiver Alliance: National Center on Caregiving
Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers: An Essential Guide for Families and Friends Caring for Ill or elderly Loved Ones
The National Institute on Aging
So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving
Long-Term Care Options Explored on PBS NewsHour:
- Why more seniors are going back to college — to retire
- Coping with Alzheimer’s: A mother and daughter portrait of long-term care
- Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together
- There’s no place like home: seniors hold on to urban independence into old age
- Foster families find and share support with elders at Oregon housing community
- Increasing demand moves long-term care centers to cater to Latino elders
About Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free educational materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.
Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and more.
Residential Care Search: listings by geographic area.
More Family Caregiver Alliance Posts in This Series:
- How to pick a long-term-care facility when your loved one can’t live alone
- What is the best strategy for taking care of your aging parents at home?
Additional Helpful Publications from Family Caregiver Alliance:
- Caregiving With Your Siblings
- Community Care Options
- Downsizing Your Home: A Checklist
- Hiring In-Home Help
- Holding a Family Meeting
- Legal Planning for Incapacity
- Home Away from Home
Founded in 1977, Family Caregiver Alliance was the first community-based nonprofit organization in the U.S. created to address the needs of caregivers. FCA and its National Center on Caregiving are nationally and internationally recognized for pioneering programs—information, education, research and advocacy—that support and sustain the important work of families and friends caring for loved ones with chronic, disabling health conditions. Visit www.caregiver.org or call (800) 445-8106 for more information.