We live in a very mobile society - family members don't always reside in the same town or state. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, nearly 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers, most tending to aging parents who live more than an hour away.
It's only natural that adult children of seniors worry about their aging parents, especially if they are apart during the holidays.
Identifying strategies for long-distance caregiving makes the challenge of caring for aging parents or loved ones more manageable. Following are tips for long-distance caregiving.
• Establish support contacts in your aging parents' community. Make a list of family, friends and neighbors' phone numbers and addresses. Ask if you can check in with them to find out how your loved one is doing. They may also be willing to stop by for regular visits.
• Stay in touch with your parents. Keep in regular contact by phone, letter and e-mail. Record any changes you sense in his or her personality or ability to function day by day.
• Make observations during visits. When you are able to visit your parents, pay attention to changes in grooming, eating or social activities. Look for changes in how they manage money, clean, shop and get around.
• Keep track of important information. Find out where your parents keep important documents such as insurance policies, bank account numbers, investments, living wills and powers of attorney (for legal, financial and health-care purposes). It's also helpful to have a list of physicians your parents are seeing, any hospitals or clinics involved in their medical care and any medications they are taking.
• Look into professional help options. There are several options for aging parents who need additional assistance. Home caregiving agencies provide services such as companionship, meal preparation and light housekeeping to help seniors continue to live independently with the help of a caregiver.
• Identify community resources. Research local area agencies on aging, senior centers, churches, synagogues or other volunteer organizations about available resources for seniors. To locate the area agency on aging, individuals can call Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, at (800) 677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov.
• Involve your parent. Allow your parents to retain as much decision-making ability as possible. Remember that your primary objective is to help your relatives fulfill their needs, not to take over their lives. In some situations, when your loved one is unable to make decisions, you may need to do so on his/her behalf.
• Take time for yourself. Caregiving can take an emotional and physical toll on caregivers, especially when done long-distance. Make sure you are eating right, getting enough rest, exercising regularly and keeping up with your own medical needs.
Gene Lennon is owner of Right at Home, which offers in-home supportive care and personal-care assistance to seniors and disabled adults who want to continue to live independently. Right at Home's national office is based in Omaha, Neb., with franchise offices throughout the United States, including Santa Clara. For more information on Right at Home, visit the company's Web site at www.rightathome.net or the Santa Clara County office at www.santaclara.rightathome.net.