6 Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers
If you live far away from your senior parent, you might be wondering what you can do to help from a distance. About 34 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving to an adult over the age of 50. Out of those, about 50 percent live more than an hour’s drive away from the person they’re caring for.
In fact, the average long-distance caregiver lives as many as 300 and 450 miles away, and needs from four to seven hours of one-way travel to reach their loved one, according to Aging Well magazine. If you can’t be there in-person for your parent every day, there are many things you can do to help make their lives as independent and comfortable as possible from afar.
- Coordinate services. No matter where you’re located, you can help arrange services for the person you care for. Make the calls for setting up in-home care, help around the house or meal delivery. The Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator is a great place to start. Once you’ve arranged a service, be sure to follow up on your loved one’s behalf to make sure everything is running smoothly.
- Manage bills or medical records. You can help with important caregiving tasks, such as managing bills, filing insurance claims and keeping track of medical visits. Gather important information about any health conditions or medication prescriptions. You can assist from afar with legal tasks like preparing trusts or wills.
- Prepare for emergencies. An emergency can happen that will make it necessary for you to travel to help your parent. Put aside money in advance and consider asking your employer about the leave you may qualify for per the Family Medical and Leave Act.
- Invest in a medical alert system. When your loved one is covered by a personal emergency response system, all they have to do is press a button, and a distress signal is sent to a 24-hour monitoring center. Your parent will get help quickly, and the response center will contact you if your name is on their list of emergency contacts. Medical alert systems also provide optional technology like fall-detection and pill reminder services.
(Related: What to Consider When Choosing a Medical Alert Company)
- Stay connected. Jitterbug cell phones are designed with large screens and roomy touch buttons that make it easy for seniors to keep in touch with family and friends. Make a point to call your loved one at least once a week to check in how they’re doing. If your parent is missing out on seeing your digital photos because they don’t go online, consider getting them a digital photo frame, like the ones from CEIVA, which allow you to upload photos from wherever you are in the world. A somewhat expensive but interesting option is the GrandCare system that is a touchscreen monitor for keeping long-distance caretakers and seniors connected.
- Make the most of visits. When you visit your parent or loved one, it’s a time to enjoy each other’s company. But it’s also the right time to take stock of their changing needs. Find out if they need help with buying things for the household or sorting out old papers. Also, check to see that the house is free of safety hazards like loose rugs or poor lighting. Are they socializing enough and taking care of their home? If not, they may need some services to help them out.
(Related: Preventing Falls: It Starts at Home)
It’s impossible for a long-distance caregiver to provide 100 percent of the help an aging parent might need. Thankfully, there are resources and services that can help to support both you and your loved one.