Today's families are spread out, and moving back home to help parents when health issues crop up isn't always an option. Whether you're one town over or all the way across the globe, you can still make a positive impact on your parent or loved one's life. Long-distance caregiving isn't just writing checks for care, you can play a role helping set up doctor's appointments, managing care and, most importantly, staying in touch and providing emotional support.
A friend recently told me about her blended family. Her parents had divorced when she was young and had both remarried. She had one set of parents who lived in the south and close-by to her own sister. The other set of parents lived an hour and a half away from her in a small city. In this family she had 3 step siblings. Two lived out west and one a little closer down south. My friend really had responsibility for this set of parents with occasional input and a visit from the southern step-sibling. The others seem not to communicate with their mother.
Its been problematic when trying to get everyone in the loop about what is going on for the parents physically and cognively. She is just starting to get a grip on their situation, and has started to dive a little deeper in terms of what their real needs are at this juncture. As she slowly gets information , she wants to be able to share it with the siblings. She is not sure that is the right move, however, but there may come a time where she needs support for care-financial or otherwise. Having those conversations with the parents and then following up with the kids, given the lack of communication with her step- Mom feels daunting to my friend.
She is now in the fact finding and dropping seeds ( concerning possible future needs)part of the beginning conversation with the parents. There are many considerations she has on her own, that make it seem difficult to broach certain subjects with her parents because she does not want them to be more anxious then they already are about their situation.
Get ready Boomers because this is what many of us are facing now or in the very near future. What to do? Prepare. How?
Here are a few pointers to get you started:
1. Get all the information you can which includes doctors, neighbors, friends and pets. You should know all pertinent information such as their birthday, social security number, medical conditions, allergies, possible treatments for ailments and allergies, prescription and medication. It's important to document all this information in a safe place and keep it in a file (on your computer or otherwise) -- and update it yearly.
2. Talk with family members so everyone will be in the loop. Send an email or note out to keep your family informed.. This will help you prevent any resentment or duplication of efforts -- you aren't in this alone.
3. Make sure that all important papers are done-a will, power of attorney, advanced directives and any other paperwork you can think of should be filled out and on file before an emergency hits and you're left thousands of miles away and impotent.
4. Make plans now. You should make plans to visit along the way -if only for a few days and plans for emergencies -- both are important.Keep in mind that phone calls may not give you the real picture of what is really going on.
5. Stay in touch by email, calling or notes to check in and make sure you are up to date -- and not just about logistics and health issues but what else may be going on with your loved one. Loneliness for example can lead to depression. Make sure there is enough stimulation to keep your loved one engaged and happy.
Even from a distance, your love can be felt. Don't be afraid to reach out and lend a hand. Call the local Council on Aging for information or Elderly Services in your loved ones area, or a homecare agency that can assist you in making sure all is well on the home front when you aren't nearby.