Looking after Elderly Parents Remotely

March 1, 2024

Taking care of loved ones without being close by is a challenge. Whether you live a long drive away from aging parents or in another state, long-distance caregiving can become emotionally exhausting. If that sounds like you, know that you are not alone. Nearly 15 percent of caregivers live an average of 450 miles away. If you have recently found yourself looking after your parents from a distance, then here are some simple strategies to help you along the way.

Evaluate Your Strengths and Outsource the Rest
Be honest with yourself about your strengths. Maybe you’re comfortable handling finances but not as comfortable determining medical needs. Pinpointing the areas of need that you’ll be most suitable for is the first step in delegating the rest. You may have siblings who live closer to your parents and are willing to accompany them to their doctor’s visits. Other helpful skills include organization and communication, which could be utilized to organize schedules and communicate with medical professionals and caregivers. Once you determine what you’ll be best at handling, then you can begin to make plans to fill in the gaps.

Create a Team for Support
Speak with the rest of your family and close friends about who can help with your parents’ care. Coordinating with everyone to determine what each person is willing to do will help everyone be on the same page and turn creating a care plan into a team effort. Even if you don’t have any other siblings or family members who are able to help, then you should still meet with your parents and include them in their own care planning. For instance, ask them what you can do that will be most helpful. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to handle everything alone and to try and outsource anything you need help with as much as possible.

Establish Access to Information
Once you determine who the primary caregivers will be and who needs to be in charge of what, then it’s time to make sure those people have access to the appropriate information. Make sure that the person designated to handle bill-paying and account management on behalf of your parents has the ability to do so. Establishing the rights to have medical information released to caregivers as well as decision-making rights is another imperative. This can also be a legal issue down the road, so making sure that you or another trusted party is the power of attorney, who is appointed to make financial and medical decisions, will need to be determined. 

Revisit Living Arrangements
Sometimes a loved one’s health requires them to be closer to you. If it’s possible to relocate to where they live or have them move in with you, then that may be something worth exploring. If it’s not possible to live together, then senior living communities have the upside of being able to provide 24/7 care. Many older people don’t require full-time care though, so if relocation isn’t feasible, then hiring a home care aide or personal care assistant is another option.

Schedule Regular In-Person Visits
If you cannot live close to your parents, then making plans to see them will accomplish several things. First, you’ll instantly alleviate some of the caregiver guilt you may be experiencing just by knowing when you’ll be able to visit them next. Second, you’ll be able to check on them in-person, as you may not have an accurate assessment of their condition and needs from a distance. “It’s hard keeping a handle on their health, how they’re doing, physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally, when you’re not there,” says Amy Goyer, AARP’s family and caregiving expert. “Isolation is a big thing and they can tell you, oh, I’m doing fine and everything on the phone, but is that really what’s happening?”

Lastly, but most importantly, you’ll be able to spend some much-needed quality time with your parents when visiting. If you are not the primary caregiver, then coordinate with them on when the best time to visit is and offer them a break. Plan in advance what you can do when you’re there to help out. Then speak with your parents about what they would like to do with you during your visit. Since visits can go by quickly, especially when there is so much to do, set priorities ahead of time about what’s most important once you’re there.

Remain Connected When You’re Apart
Schedule regular phone calls with your parents and ask for updates from their caregivers. With their permission, you may even choose to attend their telehealth visits and doctor’s appointments virtually. “The frequency of contact is dependent on the type and level of care needed,” says Iris Waichler, author of Role Reversal, How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. “It should be a collaborative decision, if possible, rather than a unilateral mandate from the caregiver.”

Regular communication can keep your bond with your parents strong, as long as it remains an enjoyable experience for all of you.

Take Care of Yourself as Well
Caregiving can come with a heavy emotional load. It will become just as important to check in with yourself in your new role as caregiver. “Caregivers may often feel like they can do more and this can cause ruminating thoughts,” says Brittany Ferri, geriatric care occupational therapist. “In this instance, they may benefit from practicing positive self-care and self-talk along with their loved one to keep the lines of communication open while relieving stress.”

It’s hard to be a good caregiver, when you’re running on empty, so taking care of yourself as well is just as important as taking care of those depending on you. Show yourself compassion, make sure you’re recharging, and be kind to yourself.

While it can be a challenge to care for your parents from a distance, that doesn’t mean it’s not manageable. By planning ahead and creating a care team, you can make sure your parents are cared for even when you can’t be close at all times. Insureyouknow.org can help you compile care plans, schedules, financial information, and medical records all in one place. Then you can rest easy that you have a plan set in motion, ensuring that your parents will be well-taken care of.

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