For many, being geographically close to our ageing parents is not possible. Whether you are three or 28 hours away, separated for work or family reasons, or due to something else entirely, sometimes we just can’t be there. As our parents get older, the issue of care can be stressful, even when you are just around the corner. It’s even more challenging if you are a long way away.
Given the huge growth in the proportion of older people, along with a generation of highly mobile baby boomers living and commuting all over the world, a new label has been born: “long-distance caregiver”. If you find yourself in this role, here are some tips to guide you.
Every individual has their own set of circumstances, with their own family dynamics and financial considerations. The amount of accessible and available local help is also key. It’s a matter of working out what is the best strategy and the best program for care.
Caring for your elderly parent usually falls into three categories: emotional care and support (personalised care and attention, love, affection, meaningful conversation), information collection (bank details, passwords, business and legal information, websites, medical details, dental records), and service coordination (weekly cleaners, day to day carers, meals, visiting medical practitioners, nursing care, etc.)
This is no doubt one of the most important aspects to ensuring that your elderly parent is supported and loved as they age – and the most difficult to provide when you are a long way away. The carers and service providers can do so much, but they can’t replace the love and emotional support that is provided by having family physically present as you age. But if you aren’t always able to be there, it is still possible to show your respect and love.
Good communication is essential. You can stay in close contact with your parent by phone, webcam or email and find out how they are feeling – both emotionally and physically. You can also do things the old fashioned way and write letters. Letters are reminiscent of the past and are a bit more personal than emails, so may be a great way to communicate with someone older.
Importantly, try to make the time to visit. This article is about caring for a parent long-distance, but it must be said that spending time face-to-face is always going to be best for your ageing loved one. The occasional visit to see your parent in the flesh, speak to each other directly and just ‘be there’ is invaluable. It will also allow you to listen to his or her needs and personally assess his or her emotional and physical health. While in the same location, it’s sensible to make sure you also meet up with the key caregivers to share thoughts, concerns and ideas.
Collecting critical information
It’s important that you have a list of critical information stored away safely, and not just on your computer. This might include essential information such as:
- important phone numbers, emails, street addresses
- legal information
- bank details and logins
- social security, pension and veterans affairs details
- doctors and health providers details
For those who really like to get organised, you may want to know that there are templates available online, made specifically to help you store critical information for your ageing parent.
Any carers employed to look after your parent should be documenting information about their treatment, such as medication dosages, vital signs, and various other mental and physical health reports. This information is vital for when there is a change of carer, medical professionals or if someone else needs to help or take over from your role as long-distance carer.
Situations change. Your parent will be getting older, and his or her needs are likely to change over time. It is important to discuss the needs of your parent with an aged care planner that can provide you with good advice and refer the appropriate local caregivers and services.
Have regular family meetings
Having regular catch ups with family involved in the care of the elderly person is an essential way of keeping up-to-date and supporting each other. If other siblings or relatives can’t be close by, arrange meetings via Skype, Facetime or other virtual software. The more siblings and relatives that are involved, the greater the problem-solving capacity will be. The difficulty of long-distance care giving is reduced and less stressful if shared.
It’s important to keep the emphasis on your ageing parent at these times, and not on past issues around family dynamics or resentments. Do your best to listen to your family members about their concerns and understand how they feel. Work together as a team. If family dynamics are too problematic and are getting in the way of positive action, you may need to employ the help of a third party to help ‘steer the ship’.
Also important: self-care
Try not to do it all yourself. Where possible, share the load with other siblings or relatives. Talk to others in similar situations to compare notes and give each other support. If necessary, talk to a health professional or therapist about your situation if it becomes stressful.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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