Caring for your aging parent when you live at a distance, can pose some real challenges. You're no longer just a devoted daughter or son, you’re now what we 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.
Gather all of your Aging Parent's Information
There is not a single right way to be a caregiver; as 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.
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.
Keep a Long Distance Caregivers Notebook
To keep things in order, long-distance caregivers will benefit from keeping a care notebook — a central place for the important information that you gather. A number of care notebook templates (hard copy or digital) are available for purchase or you can create your own, either a digital version or by using a good old three-ring binder with pocket dividers. Be sure your notebook contains current information on your parent’s prescriptions.
If paid caregivers are employed to provide care to your aging parent, you will want them to maintain a separate notebook documenting medication administration, vital signs and other key physical and mental health status information.
Two Key Long Distance Caregiver Functions:
- Information gatherer — from your parent(s), websites, books, word of mouth, etc.
- Coordinator of services — contacting potential service providers, scheduling, coordinating payment and monitoring medical care. Plan on traveling and spending some time on the phone to arrange care and services
Here are four tips to keep in mind as a long-distance caregiver:
- As much as possible, involve the one who needs care in any decision-making process, especially issues related to care and housing. Be sure to listen to his or her preferences and respect your parent’s known values, even when these differ from yours. Instructions to paid caregivers should be in writing.
- Learn what kind of help is available. Educate yourself on the care and services in the area. Similar kinds of services are found throughout the U.S. (e.g. adult day care, home care, case management, etc.). Eldercare Locator at 800- 677-1116 can direct you to the Area Agency on Aging appropriate for your parent(s).
- Remember to take care of yourself. Caregiving can be stressful, so create a support network for yourself. Talk with friends and family. Allow yourself to hire help or involve other family members. Trying to do it all alone is not healthy for you or your loved one.
- Understand that care needs will change over time. It’s not too early to think about possible future needs. Once you locate resources, speak to a social worker who has experience in planning for eldercare. There are many options to be considered, and you’ll want to make informed, well-thought-out decisions about your parent’s care.
If you feel overwhelmed at any point, never hesitate to call in a friend or professional to help. 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.