The Senior Adviser
Caring for Mom and Dad from a Distance
Caring for an older loved one can be difficult, even when you’re in the same town or a short drive away. Now imagine doing it from several states away or from across the country. The mobility of American families has added a special challenge to the process of caring for our older loved ones.
“Change” is rarely easy for seniors. Making it more difficult is the fact that many of those who grew up in the World War II generation adopt an attitude of “soldiering on” and never complaining. For adult children trying to coordinate care for their parents, it is important to be able to read through the lines, even when your parent says “Oh, everything is just fine.” Caring for older loved ones from a distance presents some challenges but following a few basic guidelines can help start things on the right path.
Begin by listening. This will make communication and sharing information easier. Make sure your parent knows that you are sensitive to their preferences and have their best interest in mind. If your parent would rather avoid talking about their own state of affairs, try bringing up similar situations (outside of your family) that you have seen or heard of and listen to your parents’ reactions. What are the things that worry them? What are their preferences?
It’s also important to gather relevant information. Get a notebook and write down the names and phone numbers for neighbors, friends and doctors. Verify and list all current prescriptions. Also, make a note of account numbers for Social Security, Medicare and other health insurance information. Lastly, get copies of bills that need to be paid regularly such as utility bills and health insurance premiums. With some companies, you may be able to be listed as a contact. In the event that a bill is not being paid, the company can notify you. All of this information will be enormously valuable if you suddenly have to take more responsibility for your parent’s affairs.
A final consideration when supporting your parents from afar is remembering to ask for help. Feeling responsible for another person is demanding and stressful. It’s important to look out for your own well being and be realistic about what you can and cannot do when you are feeling overwhelmed. If you are working with siblings, remember to work as a team. If this model is not working, it’s time to seek outside help with your local office on aging.
Change is hard for seniors. Making adjustments due to older age can be challenging but with a little planning, the task is manageable. It’s important to be flexible and find solutions that work best for your parent’s particular situation. Once your plans for accommodating later life changes are in place, both you and your parents will benefit by having greater piece of mind and being able to spend more meaningful time with one another.