Caring for Aging Parents When You Live in Another State
With more people moving away from the towns where they were raised and more retirees choosing to spend their golden years in locales with warmer climates or lower costs of living, today’s families tend to be farther apart than ever before. So, when distant parents begin to show signs that they are no longer able to care for themselves or adequately handle the responsibilities of day-to-day living, ensuring their continued well-being can pose significant challenges for their adult children. If you are facing this growing problem, the following information will help you better understand the situation and take appropriate action.
How Far Is Too Far?
Parents don’t need to be hundreds of miles away to be out of reach. If they live far enough away that you can’t easily get to them on at least a weekly basis, they might as well be in another country.
A lot depends on how well your loved ones are still able to care for themselves. If they are relatively independent and socially active, a weekly phone call and the occasional visit may be sufficient to relieve any concerns you may have. However, if they live alone and have medical issues, the picture changes dramatically. Suddenly you need to be prepared for anything.
By making a checklist like the one below, you’ll get a much better idea of the steps to take and kinds of assistance you may need to look for.
- Do your parents currently need skilled medical help?
- Do they need help with daily personal care?
- Do they need transportation to doctors and other appointments?
- Do they need home modifications, such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars?
- Do they need help with household chores such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning?
- Do they need legal assistance or help with money matters?
- Do they need opportunities to socialize with others?
Gather Local Support and Caregiving Resources
If your loved one has friends or other relatives who live nearby, you may want to enlist their aid in keeping an eye on things. The nephew across town or the downstairs neighbor might be able to check on them every day or two just to see that everything is okay.
Another good resource for ongoing personal support is the local place of worship. Perhaps a local clergyman or member of your loved one’s church group would be able to pay them a visit on a regular basis.
Often, seniors living alone suffer from loneliness, or simply lack things to do to occupy their time. This is especially true of seniors who have recently lost a spouse or close friend and suddenly find themselves alone. Along with the support of local clergy, friends and family, they may benefit from joining a local senior center for some needed social interaction.
However, if your loved one has ongoing medical conditions that must be monitored and require regular medication, you might need to engage the services of a part-time home health aide who can visit on a regular basis to make sure medications are being taken properly and that health problems are under control.
You may be surprised at the range of resources available to older adults in today’s communities. From senior centers to Meals on Wheels to adult day care, there’s help available to address a wide variety of issues and circumstances. The U.S. Administration on Aging offers an Eldercare Locator that can help you find these valuable services anywhere in the country, many of them free and with no income requirements.
When to Choose Long-Term Care
The time may come when a home health aide or a caring neighbor simply isn’t enough. If health problems are causing frequent trips to the emergency room, or if your loved one is showing signs of increased disorientation, depression, or the inability to care for him or herself, it may be time to seek other options outside the home. Glance over these signs that your loved one shouldn’t be living alone. If you are not in a position to care for your aging relative yourself, and there is no one else in your family who is willing or able to do so – don’t feel guilty, there are many fine senior care alternatives available to you.
In recent years, senior care has developed and evolved, creating new and better options, and adjusting to meet many different needs – the health of the older adult, his or her mental capabilities, the desire for social interaction, and the family’s ability to participate in the care. As a result, the long-term care decision, though difficult, can ensure that your loved one is safe, secure and living life to the fullest extent possible.
Here is a brief checklist that may help you to decide whether your loved one needs more assistance than can be provided at home:
- Are medications being properly taken? Missed doses or overdosing can result in health concerns and even hospitalizations.
- Are your parents eating properly? Often, seniors stop cooking, lose interest in eating and even miss meals completely.
- Are their finances in order? Are bills being paid on time and are important papers organized and easily located?
- Is the home being maintained? Is the house neat and clean, are clothes and dishes being washed, and needed repairs being done? Other signs of trouble include lawns not being mowed, mail piling up, and trash not being taken out.
- Are they taking care of their appearance? Declining personal hygiene or wearing the same clothes over and over can be a sign of the inability or unwillingness to keep up with these important tasks.
- Is driving becoming a problem? If they are no longer able to drive safely, are they in walking distance to food stores and do they have transportation to doctors’ offices and other support services?
- Is mobility decreasing? If walking is becoming a problem, your loved one will be increasingly dependent on others to help him or her with the tasks of everyday life.
- Are they becoming a danger to themselves? Are they leaving the stove on, cigarettes burning, or forgetting to lock or even close doors? These could be signs of dementia and may pose serious safety issues.
- Are they becoming reclusive? Reluctance to leave the house, sleeping during the day, a lack of interest in visiting friends and family, or participating in social activities could all be signs of depression.
- Have there been frequent trips to the hospital? Increased falls or injuries could be signs of mobility and gait problems, while dizziness or flare-ups of ongoing medical conditions may indicate problems with taking medication.
Preparing for Emergencies
Even if your parent is in good health, in the event of an emergency, you should be prepared to react fast and deal with any outcome. The following steps and legal documents can prevent a lot of headaches and confusion when an emergency occurs:
- Copies of your loved one’s medical records, including names of primary doctors
- Power of Attorney
- Living Will
- Advance Medical Directives
- Money put aside for emergency plane fare
Resources for Long-Distance Caregivers
Once you realize that your aging relative needs more help with day-to-day living than you alone can provide, hold a family meeting to try to divide up the responsibilities and discuss how you can work together to best ensure your loved one’s health security. If the burden of ongoing care falls to you, there are several resources you can turn to for support at the local level:
- Geriatric care managers
- Home care and companion services
- Eldercare attorneys
- Personal emergency response devices and telephone hot lines
- Government and private agency services to provide meals and transportation
- Adult day care and senior centers
- Assisted living and long-term skilled nursing facilities
To locate agencies and resources in your loved one’s area, you can go online or consult the local telephone directory. National organizations that work on behalf of seniors may also be able to point you to local chapters for assistance.
Many long distance caregivers also enlist the aid of geriatric case managers to oversee and help deal with the ongoing medical and financial concerns of their loved ones. These professional consultants act as medical, legal and financial advocates for your parents when you can’t be there. This is a popular option for aging parents who don’t want their children to be burdened with the difficult medical and financial details of their care in later life. To find a geriatric care manager in your loved one’s area, contact The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at 520-881-8008.
If you live in New Jersey, my team at Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers are here to help. Call our toll-free Help Line at 732-264-5800 ext 3343 to speak with one of our senior care counselors personally.
If you live anywhere else in the US, SeniorAdvisor.com is a great place to start your search. They have Senior Care Advisors located across the country who can help you find care based on your loved one’s needs and budget – call (866) 592-8119 to speak with one of them.