After your last phone call, Dad seemed very confused. You wonder if you caught him at a bad time, or if he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he was really missing Mom that day.
Worrying about aging parents is the reality for many adult children, whether their parents live alone or with a spouse whose health or memory is failing; however, it's especially hard when you no longer live near your parent. You know Dad's getting to an age where he can't be entirely independent. What happens when you or your siblings are not around to drop in on him?
With families more spread out than ever, long-distance caregiving has become the norm for many. The upside? Technology and other community-based services, tools and resources make it possible to create a network of care for a loved one in a different city, state or zip code. Here are six ways to care for your aging loved one when you don’t live locally.
1) Use Video Chat Technology
If you’re not doing it already, encourage Mom or Dad to use video chat technology like Zoom, Skype or FaceTime to keep in touch. When you can’t drop by in person, plan a video call with your father as a good way to find out how Dad’s really doing. Maybe Dad looks content and healthy but sounds sad on the phone because he misses you. On the other hand, he may sound cheery on the phone — trying to put your mind at ease — but when you see his face in real time, you see how your mother’s passing is wearing on him. As you check in more regularly this way, take notes and keep track of subtle hints Dad needs more help, or signs that he’s doing well and may just need some friendly visitors.
2) Create a Family & Friend Visit Schedule
Social isolation is one of the biggest pitfalls of growing older at home. For many older couples, even caregiving can result in isolation, despite not being alone. As your Mom cares for your father through a dementia diagnosis, both can suffer on a social level. She may start to feel internally isolated as the man she’s loved for decades starts changing. The relationship becomes less of a partnership and more of stewardship.
It’s also harder to stay connected to friends; seniors may receive fewer visitors, while getting out into the community less frequently.
Friendly visitors — relatives, good friends, neighbors or even volunteers from a local community organization – can provide the social boost a lonely loved one needs. Try to keep a calendar of who’s coming and when so that visitors honor their commitments and don’t randomly show up when Dad’s not prepared for a guest. Don’t have any cousins or relatives to call? Contact your parent’s local Area Agency on Aging to learn about organizations that provide these types of visits.
3) Automate Bills & Pills
The advent of secure online banking, and prescription delivery services, means you don't always have to sit at Mom's desk to help renew her prescriptions or pay her bills. It may be helpful to get everything set up in person first when you're in town (maybe even visiting Mom's local bank branch and pharmacy to touch base), but then automate as much as possible so you can manage it when you return home.
It’s important not to gloss over this vital part of care. Our elderly loved ones – especially those facing declining mental faculties – can and will forget about things like medication and bills. Save your parent time and lots of money in charges by ensuring their obligations are automated. For prescriptions, consider professional help as prescription management will help your loved one avoid a costly hospital admission.
4) Shop & Ship Online
If Dad needs a large supply of incontinence products and he has trouble getting to the grocery store, Amazon Prime and grocery delivery services through major stores like Giant, Target or Kroger can step in when you’re not around. Some of these online shopping options offer discounts on repeat items, so if you know Dad needs adult diapers every two months, you may be able to save some money by setting up recurring orders.
5) Foster Community Engagement Opportunities
Set up Uber transportation or a county transit ride so Mom can go to the library or her favorite hairdresser once a month. Reach out to your parents’ community center, if possible, to find out what support services they might offer for older adults who don't have family in the area. If your Dad still drives, research local volunteer opportunities that may help him get out of the house for a bit and stay socially connected.
You may not think that’s very important, but know that your parent may not actively be looking for anything, despite feeling lonely. Aging can take a toll on our loved ones, and they may feel increasingly less motivated to leave the house. That’s when your encouragement is critical.
6) Add a Professional Caregiver to the Team
Distance does make things a little more complicated when your parents are aging as it’s not always realistic for you to move closer to them or to uproot them and bring them to your home territory. There are ways to foster their independence and success at home. Once you’ve built a care network through the avenues described above, you may also want to consider a professional caregiver from a trusted home care provider. What can a professional caregiver do to help? There are a wide range of non-medical services available, from meal prep and laundry, to help with light housework, to medical appointment transportation and more. Some partner with a professional caregiver simply for the companionship benefits. Moreover, you can still organize and coordinate this care, even if you don't live locally.
A professional caregiver can be your eyes and ears on Dad, or the extra hands Mom needs around the house. Find out all the ways we can surround an older loved one who doesn’t have family nearby.