Caretaking When Mom & Dad Live Far Away

Adjusting to changes—and getting them the care they need

Family video chatting with digital tablet
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As we become a more transient society, people may no longer live in the same town or even in the same country as their parents and grandparents. For many, summer vacations are the only time when they get to see Mom and Dad.

That, though, means that expectations of familiar places, family memories, and spending time together may turn out different than anticipated. Unfortunately, these visits are often the times when noticeable deficits in our senior family members, if present, become apparent to us.

Maybe an elder exhibits more forgetfulness or is moving slower; the house isn't as clean as it usually is; your mom’s prize vegetable garden looks neglected; or Dad has clearly lost weight.

On some level, all of us think our parents will always be with us and remain "themselves." We may attempt to diminish changes we notice because of that. “It’s been too hot to garden" or "everyone misplaces things now and then,” for example. The senior, fearful of their decline and eager to maintain their independence, is reluctant to volunteer information about how they are really doing as well.

New Stage of Life for the Entire Family

When confronted with this new reality, there are several common responses. Like having a child for the first time, aging parents are new territory for you. You may experience a myriad of emotions, sometimes unrealistic. There can be panic, and there can be a heavy dose of guilt involved too.

The other common response is denial; we rationalize that maybe it’s not as bad as we think or she’s just having a bad day.

Before packing up Mom or Dad and bringing them home with you, it’s important to take a deep breath and put the situation in perspective. The limited time spent on a visit is probably not enough to adequately assess and address the senior’s needs.

Still, there are some issues that can be taken care of immediately. Of primary importance is safety. Are their hazards in the home such as dark stairways or dangerous multi-levels? Is medication being forgotten or taken improperly? Are they eating properly?

There are advantages to aging in place. Change is especially difficult for seniors. They usually have a long-time local support system in place, as well as friends, neighbors, their church, senior center, medical care, and other well-known entities they are familiar with. There is comfort remaining in one’s own home where you can keep your own schedule, arrange your own furniture, and take a nap with the dog when you want. Moves can often result in isolation as seniors may have difficulty making new friends.

It’s OK to Admit You Need Assistance

Before trying to solve the senior’s problems on your own during a long and frustrating weekend, you might want to seek the assistance of a professional geriatric care manager. He or she can be a great source to delve into and organize your elder’s issues.

These experienced individuals can respond like a proxy, but they also have the knowledge and experience to provide a thorough assessment of the senior's physical and mental status, focusing on his or her strengths, resources, and how they want to deal with issues. These professionals are aware of local resources and requirements for state and local programs, and can identify those that can enhance your parent's quality of life.

A professional is often more able to get seniors to consider such programs or to even make simple lifestyle changes (i.e., using a weekly pill box to manage medications) than family members, as they are not dealing from an emotional perspective. They recognize the need to maintain the senior’s independence as long as possible and realize that sometimes it is something small (i.e., Meals on Wheels to a widow who doesn’t like to cook and is losing weight) that can make a huge difference. They can identify and address issues that families don’t like to talk about (i.e., alcohol usage or finances). The care manager will take all this into consideration when creating a care plan that will not only address current needs and goals, but how to respond to inevitable changes in the future.

Putting Together an Action Plan

Adult children of aging parents become habitual worriers, especially if their loved one is not close by. Geriatric care managers become the family’s ears and eyes, as well as serve as a local advocate for the senior. They are better able to evaluate a current or ongoing situation because they can do it in person (Mom will always say everything is fine when you call her). Furthermore, they can provide practical and emotional support to both the senior and the adult children, so that all are comfortable with the care plan and how safety and functionality will be maintained.

While care managers usually charge between $100 and $200 per hour, family members quickly realize that these individuals become cost effective as a result of their knowledge of resources and time saved. Spending hours on the phone blindly seeking information about services from across the country is not only frustrating, but not very efficient. A local care manager has this information at his or her fingertips and knows how to navigate programs, services, and medical offices.

How to Find and Interview a Care Manager

How do you locate a care manager? Several organizations are available to help. These include:

Many care managers are board certified. Ask about their experience and what services they provide. Find out if they are solo practitioners and what their availability is (days, nights, weekends, and after hours). How often will they communicate with you? Interview and ask questions until you are comfortable. They understand your concerns. They have parents, too.

This article was provided by Kindly Care, an online service that allows you to find an in-home care provider near you.

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