You may not have anticipated becoming a long-distance caregiver, but if you are helping a loved one that lives more than an hour away, it is a reality. It can be challenging to know how best to help but don’t panic; there are some steps you can take that will make things easier now and down the road.
Make a Plan
This may seem obvious, but it’s an important first step to take, while everyone is cognitively aware. If you are the caregiver for a parent, ask questions now about their healthcare, medications, doctors and any other information that you might need to assist with later on. Take the time to understand and document any desires they may have for today and for future care. Health situations can change quickly, so having your loved one’s details and wishes documented will relieve stress and make decision-making easier.
Although an hour may seem like a long distance for some, the reality is that many adult children are acting as caregivers across states. If so, is it imperative to drop everything and jump on a plane to take care of your loved one? Not necessarily. Sometimes leaving your own family and job may not be feasible, even though you want to make sure your parent or family member is being well cared for. If that is your situation, consider hiring a geriatric care manager.
What is a geriatric care manager?
The National Institute on Aging defines a geriatric care manager this way, “A geriatric care manager, usually a licensed nurse or social worker who specializes in geriatrics, is a sort of “professional relative” who can help you and your family to identify needs and find ways to meet your needs.” Simply put, these professionals can help stand-in for your parent even when you’re not there. Whether helping with complex medical concerns or assessing daily physical and emotional needs, these individuals can care for your loved ones and help you stay connected. They also allow loved ones to maintain independence.
How Can I Find One?
To find a geriatric care manager, reach out to local senior organizations near where your loved one is living and ask for recommendations. You can also check online at https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx.
Consider Assisted Living
If your loved one needs more dedicated care, you can begin the process of choosing an assisted living community even if you’re not close by. While a visit may be necessary at some point, there are a lot of things you can do to begin the process. Before starting your search, understand your budget, and assess the financial feasibility for any community.
Once costs have been determined, narrow the options down from your initial three to five picks. It’s equally important that care needs are considered along with budget. This can be difficult to do if you are unsure of your parent’s current health considerations and is another area where a geriatric care manager is helpful.
Get Out and Look Around
The next step for many senior living communities is to schedule a tour. We recommend touring at least three properties before making a decision. Be sure to ask questions during any tour and ask to see all areas where your parents would be welcome. If possible, schedule the visit for a time when your parents are also available so they can begin to feel comfortable and help in the decision-making process. Remember that while you may love the environment or aesthetic of one community, your loved one may feel more comfortable elsewhere. Engaging in the decision with your parent can help the transition go much smoother down the road.
Once You’ve Decided What the Best Choice Is for Your Loved One
Once you have decided the level of care you need for your loved one, The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following advice. Periodically, you should assess the situation to make sure the needs of both the person living with dementia and family caregivers are being met.
- Is the person getting the help he or she needs with daily personal care, such as dressing, bathing and grooming?
- Have safety precautions been taken throughout the living environment? Do additional precautions needs to be taken?
- Does the person have safe transportation to doctor’s appointments and other events?
- Is the person engaged in meaningful activities during the day?
- How are family caregivers doing? Are they getting burned out? Is their health being affected? Would they benefit from respite care or other supports?
How can I make the most of visits?
The Mayo Clinic suggests the following; careful planning can help you effectively use your time with your loved one. For example:
- Find out what your loved one needs. Before visiting your loved one, talk to him or her about what tasks you might be able to assist with during your trip. Does your loved one need to go shopping, or is there something at the house that needs to be fixed?
- Schedule appointments. Ask your loved one if you can accompany him or her on a doctor’s appointment during your visit. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your loved one’s health, medications and any other questions you might have. Take notes on the doctor’s recommendations. Ask the doctor to suggest any helpful community resources. Consider making appointments with your loved one’s lawyer and financial adviser, too.
- Look for signs of problems. During your visit, check to see how well your loved one is managing daily tasks. Is your loved one able to drive safely, eat regular meals, keep up with personal grooming, and pay his or her bills? Is your loved one taking medications as prescribed? Ask your loved one’s friends and neighbors if they’ve noticed any behavioral changes, health problems or safety issues.
- Set aside quality time. Ask your loved one about simple activities that he or she enjoys most, and do those things together. You might watch a movie, play cards, or take your loved one to visit friends or family — find out what your loved one wants to do, and do that.
I feel guilty that I’m not there enough for my loved one. What can I do?
Finally, many long-distance caregivers feel guilty about not being able to do enough or spend adequate time with a family member in need of care. If you’re feeling guilty, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. It might be helpful to join a support group for caregivers. You might benefit from the tips of others as well as the knowledge that you’re not alone. All of our Maplewood Senior Living communities offer support groups, which are open to the public, so all are welcome, whether or not you have a loved one living in our community. And when you start looking in your own community, you’ll find many supportive resources are available to you – check with local churches, synagogues, senior centers, and your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. If you live near one of our communities, and would like information on our support groups, please feel free to contact us.