Because family members often live in different cities and states, many adult children find themselves helping their older parents from a distance. In fact, at least seven million Americans are long-distance caregivers. There are a number of concerns that you’ll face above and beyond the usual caregiving issues, and the following suggestions will help combat them.
Don’t Feel Guilty
Limited financial resources, time restraints, jobs, immediate family responsibilities, and other uncontrollable variables of life limit the amount of time you’re able to spend with your parents. You’ll wish you could do more, but those feelings will only beat you down. Accept the fact that you cannot provide all the help your parent needs, and allow yourself some credit for the long-distance efforts that you make.
Ask for Help When You Need It
If there are friends or other family members that could share the responsibility of caring for your parent, hold a meeting or conference call to discuss ways to divvy responsibilities.
Arrange an Initial Fact-Finding Trip
Some situations are difficult to assess over the phone, and you’ll get a more accurate picture of how your parent is doing when you’re face-to-face. Difficult conversations are always smoother in person when you can read each other’s physical cues and body language. For more information about the assessment process, read our suggestions in Talking with your Parent and Taking Action.
During this time, you need to weigh the situation, determine your parent’s needs, and identify what outside assistance they require. While you’re visiting, be observant. Is your parent eating nutritious meals regularly? Are finances in good order? Are there any obvious safety issues? Read our section on Assessing Your Parent’s Appropriate Level of Independence for more information on things to watch for and questions to ask.
Allow time during the visit to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. If the visit is all business, your parent may become suspicious or resentful.
Possible Needs Your Parents May Have
Opportunities to socialize
Help with chores or housekeeping
Personal care (bathing, dressing)
Legal assistance regarding money or health care issues
Help paying bills
Checkups and doctor visits
Help with medications
Emotional suppoprt after the death of a spouse or someone close
Modifications to the home
Moving Your Parents Requires Careful Consideration
You’ll be inclined to ask your parents to move closer so you can be involved on a daily basis, but that might not be the best option from your parent’s point-of-view. Many older people become unhappy and depressed when they move away from their current homes: They have emotional attachments to their home, old friends, and favorite hangouts. Some parents feel strongly that they’d become a burden to their children, while others just don’t want to live with their adult children and their families. Old family conflicts sometimes arise from close, frequent dealings, adding stress to both you and your parents.
Then again, having parents move closer can be a wonderful solution that works out well for everyone. This is a case-by-case decision that should be thought out carefully.
Identify Your Parents’ Support Group
Record contact information for your parent’s localized family, close friends, neighbors, clergy, medical professionals, and others who regularly connect with your parents. On a visit home, introduce yourself to as many of them as possible so you can attach faces to names.
Keep this support list handy, and touch base with the people on the list regularly. They can be your “eyes and ears,” keeping you abreast of your parent’s situation and any pertinent changes. Ongoing communication facilitates the development of relationships vested in the best interests of your parent: Thus, the circle of individuals involved in caregiving increases, providing a larger safety net for your parent, not to mention a pool of people willing to help with shopping, transportation, or visitation.
If you’re the primary caregiver, you need to collect your parents’ medical, financial, and legal documents, and store them in one, safe place for easy access. Make certain all the appropriate forms have been signed and notarized within the state where your parent is currently living. Also, make a set of copies for yourself: the living will, health care power of attorney, financial power of attorney, bank and credit card information, social security card, all insurance documents, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) forms (obtained online or at a doctor’s office).
For more in-depth information about organization and the specific medical, financial, and legal documentation, visit our sections on Staying Organized, Managing Medications, Managing Legal Issues, and Managing Finances.
Get Familiar with Your Parents’ Community Resources
One challenge for long-distance caregivers is being unfamiliar with resources and services in another part of the country. However, the helplessness and frustration of trying to set up services from a distance has largely been eliminated by the internet: It’s so easy to Google key words and instantly read about programs from across the country.
Once you’ve located various resources, take notes on the services offered − waiting lists, fees, the application process, etc − by getting information from their individual websites or by phoning their offices and asking questions. Keep your notes ordered for easy reference by creating a file or notebook for storing the information in one place.
If any of the service organizations requires a face-to-face interview with your parent, find out what documents need to be taken to the meeting. If you’re unable to accompany your parent, ask someone to take your place with the understanding that he/she has the responsibility of expressing your goals in your absence.
To begin your search for community resources, visit the Eldercare Locator or call (800-677-1116). By typing in your parent’s zip code, city, or county, you can quickly learn of agencies and community-based services like meals, transportation, home care, and caregiver support services.
Other good online resources include:
- Arthritis Today article: Long-Distance Caregiving
- AARP’s Caregiving News
- The National Family Caregivers Association
- Caring from a Distance
Make a Follow-up Trip
Take your parents to visit the various community resources you’ve located. By working with your parents sensitively, you can help them accept and embrace the services they need. Together, decide what should be done and who can help.
Your parents may be concerned about having strangers in their home, or they may just have difficulty with change in general. Try to maintain a positive focus, and explain that the services are designed to help them remain independent. As a variation on the “I” statement, tell your parents they will be doing you a favor by accepting assistance. For more tips, read our section on Taking Action.
If cost is an issue, read our section on Managing Finances to learn about helping your parents meet their financial obligations for prescriptions, health care, meals, and other necessities. Or, if you’re financially able, tell them you'd like to help cover the costs because it will make you feel better, rather than for charitable reasons.