Phone conversations become repetitive and confusing. Mom calls to note that Dad has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. A sibling calls to note that Mom is not very steady on her feet. You arrive for your twice a year visit to find the house is not being kept up, bills are not getting paid and food is spoiling in the fridge.
It is not uncommon for children to live far away from their parents. Suddenly an adult child is forced to handle a new role as a long-distance caregiver.
Caregivers can take steps to help ease the stress of the task. Collecting valuable information on a loved one, assembling a support team, and staying in touch with the people involved are a few ways to take charge of the situation.
Do your homework. Find out who you can count on to take care of mom on a regular basis, and who you can turn to for questions, support and help in an emergency. Start a file and try to keep all of the information in one place.
Making regular visits is probably the best way to assess your parent’s condition, but you can ask other family members, friends, or paid caregivers to provide feedback for you.
Research the services available in your area. Possibilities include: meal delivery, transportation, in-home care for personal needs, help with household chores, and medication monitoring.
Assemble your care team. Think of all the people who may be able to help you monitor the situation or provide direct support. Those people may be relatives, neighbors, close friends and care professionals. Keep a list of names, phone numbers and e-mails handy for easy contact. Ask your parent for names to add to the list.
Be sure to include health professionals on your contact list. Make it a point to schedule a health appointment with your loved one’s primary providers at a time you can attend. It will help to have another set of ears hearing the recommendations of the health professional.
Include important documents in your caregiving file. You will need to know birthdate, Medicare/Medicaid numbers, social security number and health insurance information. Keep these handy for all health-related phone calls.
Recognize what you can and can’t do. It’s important for caregivers to attend to their own physical and emotional health. Don’t become isolated from your own support system. Consider joining a support group. There are several groups that deal with specific health issues that may help you with caregiving concerns unique to your loved one. (i.e. Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s)
It’s difficult to be a long distance caregiver, but there are resources to help ease the burden. A great place to start is with the local Aging & Disability Resource Center. They will be able to provide you with resources specific to the place where your loved one resides.
If you have a loved one who is starting to show signs of needing help, begin to gather your information now. You will be better prepared for that phone call.