Long distance caregiving (taking care of aging parents or an older sibling, for example) can be incredibly stressful. What signs should you look for in older adults that indicate a need for assistance? Even if your elderly parents live far away, you still need to ensure they are safe, healthy, and well cared for. I thought I would share a few long distance caregiving tips as well as a few ways to decide if remote caregiving is even necessary yet.
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How do I know if my elderly parents need help?
The first thing you need to figure out is if your elderly parents even need your help yet. And I can tell you from experience that just ASKING them isn’t going to give you all the answers you need. Older parents can be decidedly stubborn when it comes to asking for help!
Do your aging parents need to you step in yet? Here are a few signs that may indicate a need for assistance, either from you, a home health aid for the elderly, or just a trusted neighbor:
Are bills piling up? If checks are being bounced and there are calls coming from collections agencies, you may need to get involved in your parents financial issues. On your next visit to your parents, talk to them about any late payment notices or banking irregularities that they may have noticed.
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Home repair problems
When you visit your aging parents, do you notice that the interior or exterior of the home is in disrepair? Are there broken appliances, wiggly porch steps, or doors that don’t close properly? These are all signs that your elderly parents may be struggling to keep up with the needs of their house.
Changes in mood, depression, or extreme mood swings
This may require that you spend some time just hanging out with your parents. Assessing mood in the elderly isn’t always easy. It’s easy to fake being happy during a ten minute phone conversation when you live across the country. However, changes in mood can be a sure sign that your aging parent may need assistance. See if you can have an honest conversation with their friend or neighbor to assess their mood.
Clutter and disorganization
While some clutter is normal, excessive clutter in your older parent’s home may lead to trip and fall accidents, which can be incredibly dangerous. Are dirty dishes piling up? Is the laundry getting done? You may need to investigate getting a housekeeper to help them stay on top of things.
Confusion and uncertainty
Being confused about the new TV remote is rather normal. However, confusion when performing once-familiar tasks can signify a problem. Confusion in the elderly can be a sign of significant problems so this is something that you need to address with their doctor.
Personal hygiene problems
If your older parents are struggling with basic hygiene, they may need daily assistance from a home health aid. Bathing, clipping toenails, washing hair, etc can be difficult as they get older. Having someone come in to help a few days a week may be all the caregiving they really need.
Forgetfulness in the elderly can range from neglecting to take medications to forgetting to turn off the stove. Many of these situations can have disastrous results. Ask their doctor if they are missing important appointments. Check with their pharmacist to see if they are filling their medications properly and ask a trusted friend to stop by occasionally to check on them. Get them a pill box for seniors to help them remember to take their medications.
Unexplained bruising, falls, etc. can all indicate a difficulty in getting around. If you stop in for a visit and notice a bruise, ask them about it. If you get a call from their doctor about unexplained injuries, don’t let them just brush your concerns under the rug.
Tips for Long Distance Caregiving
There are many strategies for long distance caregiving that you will have to explore. Feeling guilty about elderly parents being on their own is normal, however, this isn’t always something that YOU personally can do.
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Talk to your parents about remote caregiving options and ask them what they are willing to accept. If you truly suspect a problem voice your concerns to them. Here are a few tips for long distance caregiving that may help keep your elderly parents safe when you can’t be there to help.
High tech solutions for long distance caregiving
Consider teaching your parents how to use Skype or a similar video phone call service. I know this is intimidating for some elderly people…my mom can barely figure out the VCR! However, actually SEEING the person you are talking to will go a long way towards making sure they are healthy and the house is in good order.
Make friends with the neighbors
Talk to your parent’s neighbors, friends, and nearby family members. Ask someone to stop in and check on your parents occasionally and let you know how they are doing. This is helpful for you but also makes the elderly a bit happier when they have company to chat with.
Look into power of attorney
If your parents are getting older you may want to talk to a lawyer about gaining power of attorney. In an emergency situation you may need to make decisions regarding their health or finances and this can be difficult if you do not have legal authority to do this. Check out the book Powers of Attorney Simplified: The Ultimate Guide to Powers of Attorney for information on how to do this.
Get them organized with simple solutions
As we get older we get more forgetful and it is sometimes hard for the elderly to remember important things like phone numbers and medicine schedules. Get a monthly pill organizer and have someone help them sort their prescriptions. Type up a list of important phone numbers in large print and put it on the refrigerator. Make sure there is a notebook and pencil by the phone for taking down messages.
Talk to them about scammers, hustlers and online safety
We worry about the safety of our children online but how about our parents? Older adults are at real risk for scammers and hustlers, both online and at their front door. Talk to them about online scams, people asking for money, phone calls that ask for their social security number, etc. Check out the National Council on Aging for scams targeted to seniors and how to protect them.
Make long distance caregiving easier with local help
When the cleaning got to be too much for my grandmother, she hired a friend to come and do it once a month. Look into having someone come and do the cooking and cleaning for your elderly parents. While you would like to be the one doing the helping, long term care giving means that you will need to rely on others to help out when you can’t be there.
The Challenges of Caring for the Elderly
Having parents that live far away can be stressful as they start to age. We want to be there for them the way they were there for us as we grew up but jobs and family commitments often make this impossible. Look into long term care insurance NOW and talk to your parents about their needs and desires. You can find out more about caring for aging parents at the National Institute on Aging.
The most important part of taking care of aging parents is planning before you actually need to worry about it. Knowing how you will handle things in the future and talking to your elderly parents about it will make decisions easier when they finally have to be made.
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.