Posted February 6, 2008

I attended a seminar about long distance caregiving last week and this article about sums up all the things we discussed.  I especially like the last point..don’t expect your parents to welcome your assistance.  The full article can be seen on CNN.com’s website here.  (Or you can go to their website and search for long distance caregiving and the article should come up on the right hand side called “Caring for Mom and Dad from afar.”

New Year’s Resolutions for the Long Distance Caregiver

I just read another article by one of my favorite people Cheryl Kuba.  I asked her if I could post it here and of course she said yes, so here it is!

Maybe home is where the heart is, but if you are not home and desperately worried about an ailing loved one who lives 2,000 miles away, your anguish can be a ticking time-bomb for your own health and future happiness.

Eldercare expert and gerontologist Cheryl Kuba offers strategies that can be adopted as New Year’s resolutions to make long distance caregiving a stress-free success for you and your aging parent. “According to a study by Metropolitan Life (2005), more than 7 million adult children are caring for their parents long distance,” Kuba said. “While the internet and cell phones can put us in immediate contact with our loved ones, there is no substitute for the human touch or being able to see with our own eyes that our parents are safe, and well cared for.”  Long distance caregivers live an average of 304 miles away from their care receivers, according to statistics from the National Coalition on Aging (NCOA).

In her book Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents: What Care Receivers Want (Routlege 2006), Kuba outlines what the dependent elderly expect from their children who live far away, as well as the concerns that the adult children have about mom and dad not living just down the block. “As we venture into a new year our own new year’s resolutions should include a reasonable, updated game plan for long distance caregiving,” Kuba said.

Resolutions to insure the well-being and comfort for a relative who lives miles away:

Advance Directives. It’s a new year. Time to revisit the affairs
that are in order, or simply get your parent’s affairs in order.
Specifically, make sure that the Living Will, Health Care Power of
Attorney, and organ donation card (if this is your loved one’s choice)
are up to date. Too many families wind up in court at the same time
that their ailing family member is dying in a hospital, because nobody
checked the advance directives. In some cases, guardianship needs to be
established long before a loved one’s dying days.

safe deposit box, file cabinet, a lawyer’s office or a shoe box under
the bed, you should know and should also alert someone who lives close
to your parent how to locate these documents. Some elderly individuals
choose to tape an envelope to the refrigerator with the living will and
durable power of attorney inside. If paramedics are called, they will
have the documents in hand in a matter of minutes.

Consider Care Management. Eldercare managers or case managers
can be hired to do all kinds of tasks for your parents including
scheduling appointments, doing paperwork, hiring housekeeping and even
pet care services. Care managers are often considered as “the other
daughter” and can serve as a terrific professional liaison between you
and your parent. Contact the National Association of Geriatric Care
Managers, www.caremanager.org.

Local contacts as back up. It’s time to update that list of
local contacts. One adult daughter that we worked with was frantic
because her mother’s health care power of attorney had been given to an
elderly woman who was now hospitalized with Alzheimer’s disease. Comb
through your parent’s social network of neighbors, church folks, and
friends to see if there isn’t someone who can frequently visit and give
you an update on how your parent is doing. A good source is the
Eldercare Locator, www.eldercare.gov. for help in your parent’s community.

Family members. It’s hard to believe that just as your aging
parent grows older, so do the grandchildren and nieces and nephews.
Maybe one of you nieces or nephews is old enough now to do ‘grandma
check-ins’ as a part time job. Perhaps the situation for your siblings
or Godchildren has changed, and they can help with the tasks of taking
your parent to appointments.

In town assessments. During your next visit, do a thorough
assessment of your parents’ living situation. Is their environment
still safe?  Are there spills around the stove that could indicate poor
eyesight, or lack of recognition about food spilling over?

Do a physical ‘walk around’ with your parent, in their home.  Before
every flight, the captain or first officer on each commercial flight
does a physical ‘walk around’ to make sure that the plane is in ship
shape. Are the lights and vents working, etc? Have the conversation
with your parent about falling, as the two of you walk through their
living room, and into the bedroom. Phrase the question by saying, “When
you fall….” not, “If you fall…” One third of all falls with the elderly
occur from hazards in the home.  As you pass various locations in each
room, the question should be, “When you fall over here by the window,
how will you get help?” Whether or not you get the best answer to this
question, you have started the conversation, and started your parent
thinking about the possibilities of a fall. This is also a great time
to talk about emergency alert devices.

Telephones.  Cell phones and cordless phones can be both a
blessing and a hindrance for your parent.  Cell phones need to always
be charged; and, with a few exceptions, most buttons and displays on
cell phones aren’t user friendly for someone with poor eyesight or
arthritic hands. Cordless phones work, but are useless if the power
goes off. Always have a phone with a cord in the home.

Time zones. We worked with an adult daughter named Jean, who
lived in London, while her 85 year old mother lived in the United
States. Even though Jean told her mother to call on her cell phone, the
elderly mom rarely ever called because of the distance, the cost, and
the confusion over the time zones. Jean became so anxious about her
mother refusing to call, that she moved back to the U.S. Now Jean’s
mother uses the same cell phone number and calls her daughter
frequently. The hurdle here was the obstacle in her mother’s mind about
placing a transatlantic call.

Know that you are doing your best.  No two families are alike,
and no two situations are alike. What may have been an emergency crisis
for your Aunt Mabel in Omaha may be solved by getting your mom in
Chicago to take two aspirin.

Take care of yourself, celebrate each moment, and 2008 will be a Happy New Year!

For information about the right questions to ask as a long distance
caregiver, pick up a copy of Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents:
What Care Receivers Want,
by Cheryl A. Kuba, MA. – see the link to Amazon on the right side of this blog!!

Cheryl’s website:

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