Managing Your Parent’s Care From a Distance
Helping your parents as they age is always a balancing act. You may want them to be safe and secure so you’re not always worrying. They may want to be as independent and live at home as long as possible. Living far from your folks adds to the challenges of caring for them, especially if you don’t have a big family to help out, but it can be done.
Here are some of our best tips for managing your parents’ care from a distance.
5 Ways to Manage Your Parent’s Care From a Distance
One thing to know before you start: This won’t always be easy or simple. Distance creates challenges that may require you to get creative with your resources, flexible with your schedule and patient with the entire experience.
If you have supportive colleagues, family and friends, start talking with them sooner rather than later about the challenges you’ll be dealing with. That way, if you ever need to make a sudden, unplanned trip to care for your folks, you won’t also have to take time to explain the entire situation to your children, co-workers or friends. It’s also a good idea to get in touch now with the Area Agency on Aging closest to your parents to start learning about the senior-care resources in their city or town before you need them.
Ideally, though, most of your long-distance care will focus on checking in on your parents’ well-being, making sure they have what they need to be comfortable and healthy.
Here are five steps you can take on that path, and one step to take when long-distance is no longer enough:
1. Check in daily with your parents.
Those of us who didn’t grow up texting are usually pretty happy to get a phone call from people we love. A short daily call — or a video call if your folks are tech savvy — is a simple, direct way to find out how your parents are feeling, what they need, and what their plans are for the day ahead. Apart from the content of your conversation, you can also pick up on things like a new cough or flu, or cognitive or hearing issues that might require a trip to the doctor.
If your parents love to talk and you have an overly packed schedule, consider setting up a daily call calendar that rotates among other members of your family. Your teenage or older children, your siblings if you have them, and maybe even your spouse can take turns getting in touch with your folks. This is also a good way to lay the groundwork for better family involvement in your parents’ care later on. The local Area Agency on Aging or your parents’ house of worship may be able to connect you with volunteers who will drop by for social visits and wellbeing checks with your folks each week, too.
2. Get in-home care for your parents.
At some point, your family may reach the crossroads that so many others have: Mom or Dad can no longer live alone safely, but they don’t want to move to assisted living or closer to you. This is the time to consider regular in-home care for your parents, to help them with doctor appointments and errands, medication management and personal care — and to let you know if there are major changes in your parents’ health, mental state or quality of life.
If your parents are at the point where they need this kind of help to live at home, their long-term care policy, if they have one, or Medicaid may cover the cost. (Don’t assume that your parents don’t qualify for Medicaid — you may be surprised.) If your folks are already getting help with grocery shopping and cooking from a home care service, it may be easy to scale up the number of hours their caregiver spends with them.
If you’re starting from scratch looking for in-home help:
- Ask your parents’ friends, neighbors and the local Area Agency on Aging for recommendations
- Read online reviews of each senior care agency
- Talk to each agency and go through your checklist of questions
- Understand the agency’s billing and payment policies
Know that it can take time and a few tries to make a good match between your caregivers and your parents. If an agency or caregiver isn’t working out, try another.
3. Hire a “professional relative” for your parents.
Geriatric care managers can be a lifesaver for families who are handling eldercare from a distance. The National Institute on Aging calls them “professional relatives” because these professionals handle many of the tasks that would normally fall to family members if they were close by. Geriatric care managers can assess your parents’ home for safety, help arrange for in-home care and meal delivery, help your parents and you make plans for their care, and listen to everyone’s concerns. As with in-home help, you’ll want to choose a geriatric care manager based on the quality of their recommendations, their professional licensing and experience, and their rapport with your family.
Hiring a senior care manager isn’t cheap and it’s usually an out-of-pocket cost. But compared to the cost of last-minute trips and lost work hours to manage your parents’ care issues in person, it can be a financial bargain. Having a professional who’s looking out for your parents’ best interests and keeping you in the loop can relieve you of a tremendous amount of stress and worry.
4. Plan regular visits with your parents.
Getting help can go a long way to making sure your parents are safe and socially engaged even when you’re far away, but nothing takes the place of in-person visits. For most adult children, arranging regular trips to see their parents is the biggest logistical and financial part of the long-distance care puzzle. There can be emotional challenges, too — some people put distance between themselves and their parents to ease the strain of a difficult relationship. But if you can make the time and find the money, visiting in person, even for a day or two a few times a year, can give you the most accurate view of how your parents are faring on their own. If your relationship with your folks is rocky, focus on making these visits about their wellbeing, not about old issues in your relationship. If you can enlist other relatives and family friends to visit, too, even better. Your parents will benefit from more social contact and your informal eldercare network will be that much stronger.
5. Set up grocery or meal delivery for your parents.
For seniors who don’t drive, grocery shopping can be a hassle or downright impossible. One way to make sure your parents have access to good food choices is to set up grocery or meal delivery for them. Your options for doing this will depend on what’s available near your parents. If they’re in a mid-size to a large city, the local grocery chains may offer online ordering and home delivery through a service like Instacart or Shipt for a small monthly fee plus a tip on each order. Once you create an account, you can share the information with your folks so they can place orders, or you can order for them.
In areas without these delivery options, or if your parents like to shop but need help, you can use a home care service to take your parents’ shopping, help them with meal planning and list making, and even prepare meals for the week if they need a hand in the kitchen. This option costs more than grocery deliver – the national daily median rate for homemaker services is $131, or roughly $16 per hour, although rates vary a lot by city and state. However, if your parent’s doctor says they need help with activities of daily living (such as cooking, meal prep and shopping), they may be able to use their long-term care policy or Medicaid (if they qualify) to pay for help.
If Medicaid and private pay aren’t options for your folks and they need help with meals, the Area Agency on Aging in their city may be able to connect your parents with free or low-cost meal delivery services like Meals on Wheels and with the local food pantry. You can read about more grocery and meal delivery options for your parents here.
When Long-Distance Care Isn’t Working
Taking any or all of these five steps can improve your parents’ quality of life and take some of the pressure off you as a long-distance caregiver. However, there may come a point when your dad or mom can no longer live at home, due to dementia, illness, injury or mobility issues. At that point, you’ll need to move them with the help of an assisted living community, memory care or nursing home facility — and the reality is it’s better to choose a place close to you rather than where they are now. That’s because when your parents need to see you more often, even a short drive of a couple of hours can be too disruptive if you’re trying to visit your folks every day or a couple of times a week for weeks or months on end. You can end up dangerously overworked and stressed, which is bad for your overall health.
It can be emotionally difficult to acknowledge that your parent’s time in their hometown or neighborhood has come to an end, but when their care needs escalate, you need to be in a position to care for them without wearing yourself out — for their sake as well as yours. This is the time to get in touch with the Area Agency on Aging in your city and talk to friends and neighbors about the local care resources they use. The good news is that, while it’s hard for everyone to make this kind of move, your long-distance caregiving experience will make some of the logistics easier for you and your parents.
For more information about senior care options near you or near your parents, call SeniorAdvisor.com at 1-800-805-3621.