by Michelle Porjes
Increased mobility and life spans make long distance care giving a fact of life for many families. Living far away poses some challenges, but there are ways to make the arrangement work for you and your loved ones.
Steps You Can Take From a Distance
Take advantage of technology. Use email and social media to stay in touch and get frequent status updates. Store important documents and data on a flash drive and put it on your key chain. Learn about new mobile health apps that can tell you if your parents are taking their prescriptions.
Consult with professionals. Schedule conference calls with family doctors, lawyers and financial advisors. Keep the information they need organized and updated and schedule appointments.
Research community services. Check out the websites for local churches and nonprofits. They may provide free or low cost services like transportation or exercise classes for seniors.
Sign up for the Mail Carrier Alert Program. The US Postal Service trains mail carriers to spot trouble signs such as mail or trash piling up and report them to agencies that will check in on older adults. Ask your mail carrier about how to enroll.
Look into other public services. There are many federal and state programs that help seniors with everyday tasks and expenses. In the US, call Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1.800.677.1116 to find your local area agency on aging and see if you're eligible.
Steps to Take on Home Visits
Talk with each other. Keep the lines of communication open. Listen and ask questions so you'll understand where your relatives need help and what they want for their future.
Get to know the neighbors. The people who live next door can keep an eye on things when you are away. Be appreciative if they're willing to provide companionship and let you know about issues like unsafe driving.
Conduct a home inspection. Look around for safety precautions you can take. Improve the lighting in the basement or install guard rails in the bathroom. Ensure the kitchen is stocked with nutritious foods.
Catch up on paperwork. Offer to help with paying bills and balancing the checkbook. If unopened mail is piling up, sit down together and respond to important correspondence.
Encourage socializing. Join your parents in their regular activities like religious services or a weekly golf game. Get to know their friends or suggest activities where they can spend time with other seniors.
Create happy memories. Take time to enjoy each other's company. Visit a museum or public garden. Reminisce over old family films and photos.
Steps to Take for Yourself
Set realistic goals. Know your capacity and balance your responsibilities. Take satisfaction in what you do instead of worrying about doing more.
Plan ahead for emergencies. Try to put aside some money and have time available so you can respond quickly to changing conditions. Being prepared will give you more peace of mind.
Divide up the responsibilities. Hold family meetings so everyone gets a chance to contribute and take on the assignments they're best suited for. You may want to designate one person as the primary caregiver or rotate that role.
Manage stress. Safeguard your own emotional and physical strength. Get plenty of rest and sleep. Exercise regularly and relieve tension, such as by listening to instrumental music or meditating.
Long distance care giving is a big responsibility, but careful planning and teamwork will make it easier to manage. Enlist all the help you can, keep yourself in top shape, and make the most of the opportunities you get for home visits.