Today, children may move away from their home towns in search of new jobs and experiences, while parents may stay put or move to warmer climates. The result? Families are scattered across entire continents. In such circumstances, as parents age and require greater assistance, the responsibilities of caregiving may fall to the family member who lives closest to the parents, while other siblings remain unsure how to help out. So if you are a long-distance caregiver, what can you do?
Evaluate the Situation, Often
During phone calls, elderly individuals hesitate to tell their children that they are having trouble paying the bills, or are no longer able to cook their own meals or properly clean their own homes. However, those issues are generally more evident during in-person visits, so it is important to make the most of your time together. Examine the condition of your parents’ health, moods and home. Is the home well-maintained and safe? Are your parents prone to frequent falls? Can they still drive safely, and if not, do they have access to adequate transportation? How healthy are they? Considering these and other such issues can help you determine what, if any, steps need to be taken.
Additionally, if you are not able to visit frequently, it is important to get an outside perspective on your parents’ condition. Talk to their doctors, neighbors and friends, and of course, if you have family members who live closer to your parents than you do, talk to them as well. Such individuals may be able to offer valuable insight into how your parents are really doing.
Share the Care
Have an honest discussion about your concerns with other family members and discuss what each person can do to contribute to your parents’ well-being, so that the majority of the caregiving responsibilities do not fall to one person. While you may live too far away to drive your parents to doctor’s visits and grocery stores, you may be able to take care of paperwork and handle other tasks that can be done at a distance, such as the following:
- Gather financial information. Keep track of your parents yearly income, debts, expenses and bank and credit card information.
- Organize medical information. Create a chart containing your parents’ health conditions, medications and doctors’ contact information.
- Assemble legal information. Create a file containing documents such as wills, property deeds, birth certificates, insurance policies and other important paperwork.
Additionally, you may want to consider what, if any, financial support you can offer. For instance, if one sibling is handling the majority of your parents’ care, can you make arrangements for occasional respite care in order to give your sibling some free time? Providing aid for the primary caregiver is often just as helpful as providing support directly to your parents. Remember the 50/50 Rule.
Finding Outside Support
If you come from a small family you may not be able to rely upon other, geographically closer relatives to look after your parents. In these circumstances, you may want to consider hiring a geriatric care manager who can closely monitor your parents’ situation. Geriatric care managers specialize in assessing the needs of elderly individuals, and will work with you to find necessary resources.
Each family is different. However, even if you are separated from your family by many miles, your contributions can be just as meaningful as those of your relatives who live closer to your parents. By regularly communicating with your family about your parents’ needs and providing practical help from a distance, you can give valuable aid.