When your parents begin aging, managing their health and well-being can be especially difficult for adult child who live far away. When you have an older parent and can’t see them quite as often, you have to trust that their caregivers are doing the best job possible — protecting their physical, mental, and emotional health. Even though you live far away, your aging parent will require more and more of your attention and decision-making skills. But how do you manage that if you live in a different state or even across the country? Making sure your senior parent is cared for when you cannot be the one to do it is a very challenging and emotional time.
Your role is one that many adult children face — that of the long-distance caregiver. Some days, this role may feel more stressful than rewarding, but don’t feel guilty. Dealing with a range of emotions is completely normal. Here are a few tips to make long distance caregiving to go smoothly for you both.
Choosing a Retirement Facility
Moving Mom or Dad into a senior living facility may be the best option for ensuring their care from a distance. While they may not be too keen on the idea in the beginning; be patient and use honesty to work through their resistance. You can get them excited for the transition by:
- Having them create a pros and cons list that the two of you will use to guide the decision-making process.
- Tour facilities together and give them time to meet residents, participate in activities and make connections with staff.
- Try to find a balance between their desired level of independence and what is realistic for their care.
- Make sure to ask the right questions: Is the retirement home safe and will your parent feel secure? Does the facility provide transportation so your mom or dad maintains a sense of freedom? Do the meals look and taste good? Are the residents age appropriate and share similar levels of health?
You are concerned for your senior parent’s wellbeing and that, combined with the distance, might motivate your timeframe. However, try not to rush your mom or dad — or make them feel as if this isn’t their decision. Try to be considerate of their emotions, while also being firm about next steps.
Securing the Home
You may decide that in-home care is the right call for your aging parent. If that’s the case, it’s important to take charge on securing the home against slips and falls. No matter how nonchalant your senior acts, this is a serious situation. Every 11 seconds a senior arrives in the emergency department because of a fall. The risk of death is extremely high — every 19 minutes an aging adult dies from a fall.
This is why you’ll want to both secure the home and hire in-home care. First, you will want to take time off work in advance to come to town and interview caregivers, as well as investigate the senior’s home. Work with your parent to create a job description for the caregiver who will be looking after them. This collaborative description should satisfy both your needs. Interview prospective employees together and choose one that you both agree on. If you don’t agree, keep interviewing. Use agencies with strong reputations to help out.
When securing the home, keep in mind these common danger zones:
- Bathrooms are a common place for slips, so bring in shower stools, no-slip mats, and handrails.
- Stairs and second floor rooms are accidents waiting to happen. Move all essential rooms and belongings down to to the first floor.
- Make sure the caregiver will also clean, to keep the floors free from liquids and grease that can cause slips and falls.
- Give your senior access to emergency help at their fingertips. Purchase an assistive device that allows them to press a button or is voice-activated.
Downsizing for a smaller place
Whether moving to a senior living facility or a smaller home that’s easier to maintain, you’ll need to help them go through and purge their belongings. This can be an extremely emotional time for an aging adult. Their home is a part of their identity. They may have memories in this house with people who are no longer living, and they will be scared to let go. You can help them through this process by organizing their belongings, find helpful places to donate the items they don’t need and put items into storage that they’re hesitant to let go of.
Long-distance caregiving can be a rollercoaster for you and your loved one. Getting the right care can lift a huge weight off your shoulders, but the journey may not be easy. Be compassionate with your senior and yourself, and take your time. The right decision may not always be the quickest one.
Marie Villeza’s mission is to empower seniors against ageism by providing information they need to keep control of their own lives. Find her at ElderImpact.org