July “Senior Sense” Caregiving from a Distance: Learning to Make the Best of It
In the middle of the night, I hear my iPhone ring. With a groan I look over, half-expecting it to be a prank call. Instead, I see “Mom” on my Caller-Id. I answer without hesitation. Before I even say hello, my mom says, “I am having heart palpitations and my blood pressure is through the roof.” I immediately tell her to push her life alert button. Within minutes the ambulance arrives at her door and transports her to the emergency room. Since I live out-of-state, my caregiving is from a distance. It is sometimes tricky to navigate, but prepping ahead of time for emergencies is the best way to deal with the unpredictable.
According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, approximately 5-7 million caregivers in the United States are long-distance caregivers and that number is expected to climb in the coming years. As a long-distance caregiver, here are some important tips I’ve used to help care for my mom:
- Have access to important documents. I manage my mom’s finances and made a concerted effort to have copies of her birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, Medicare information, bank statements, credit card statements, as well as her will, medical and financial power of attorney and advanced directives in my possession. The last thing you want to do is hunt for these documents in an emergency.
- Keep a connection with friends or neighbors. On my speed dial at home, I keep the phone numbers of neighbors and friends who live next door to my mom. If my mom doesn’t answer her phone, I immediately call these trusted people to check on her well-being.
- Determine if Life/Medical Alert is necessary. Since my mom lives out of state, we decided to equip her with a life alert device. This comes in handy in all emergencies, whether it is a fall or working quickly to address a major health concern.
- Invest in help. A life and medical alert system is key for urgent emergencies, especially for caregivers that live far away. The remote caregiver may want to look into hiring housekeepers, transportation help, and in-home care if necessary.
- Make visits productive. When I visit my mom, I make a list of household products she needs, check her smoke/fire alarm, clear clutter from high traffic areas, and have a conversation about what she wants specifically. This is my face-to-face time to do a check-in on her physical and emotional welfare.
- Use technology to your advantage. I always make certain my mom has a working phone and a charger readily available. For my peace of mind, I check in with her via text, phone and, occasionally she uses Facetime to talk with her granddaughter.
- Know your loved one’s wishes. Even though it is difficult, I’ve had conversations with my mom regarding end-of-life issues to make certain I know exactly what she wants if this situation arises. If these conversations are too difficult, a Senior Care Advisor can help guide you.
- Utilize unexpected good surprises. Sending a letter, flowers or having my mom’s favorite take out delivered to her place are some of the ways I connect with her. A small-pick-me-up can go a long way.
Through this long-distance caregiving journey, I’ve learned preparation is the key to help navigate uncertain waters. Having conversations ahead of time and taking proactive measures is not only comforting for me, but also for my mom. I will always worry about her, but also know I have the tools in place to help care for her from afar.
To learn more about strategies for long-distance caregiving, contact a Senior Care Advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 x3 or email questions to email@example.com
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