Concern about a senior parent’s health and happiness is a top priority for many adult children, especially those who live far away. When you don’t see your parent daily, you begin to worry about their health -- bone health, memory loss, chronic illness or the risk of a fall. Even from a distance an aging parent needs more and more of your assistance and attention. But how do you manage that if you live a plane ride away? Whether you live in a different state or across the country, ensuring your senior parent is cared for when you cannot be there every day is a very real, and very emotional challenge.
Your role is no longer just a loving, supportive child; you’ve now become responsible for long-distance caregiving. This changing world of new responsibilities may feel as if it were filled with more stress than rewards, but there is a way to make managing care from a distance less intimidating.
Protecting against medication errors
The risk for medication mishaps are crystal clear-- seniors take almost one-third of the prescriptions used in the U.S., and fill up to 13 prescriptions a year.
Since the volume of medicines could be high, it’s not uncommon for seniors to struggle when remembering their regimen. Calling your senior when it is time to take their medications and walking them through it, or listening as they walk you through it can help make sure they take the right pills at the right time. If your aging parent is particularly tech savvy, some long-distance caregivers use Skype or Facetime to check in.
Preventing slips and falls
Many young people who have seen the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of senior slips and falls. However, a senior heads to the emergency room due to a fall every 11 seconds. Even more startling, one aging adult dies every 19 minutes from a fall.
First, make the effort to come to town to physically inspect and secure the senior’s home inside and out. Be sure to keep areas clear of obstacles that could cause tripping and install handrails where extra support might be needed. Bathrooms are a common place for accidents, so preventing falls in the shower can take the shape of stools, no-slip mats, and handrails in the shower and by the toilet. Second floor bedrooms should be moved to the first floor, and hire a housekeeper to make sure the floors are clean from spills and grease. You can also purchase assistive devices that allow the aging adult to press a button that contacts emergency help.
Downsizing and moving into a new home
Sometimes the best care for your aging parent is to ensure they have round-the-clock care. If that’s the way for your senior, and for your peace of mind, help them move into a senior living facility. While they may not need that time of specialized care, moving to a smaller house or first-floor apartment might also be an effective way to help manage care from afar. Either way, you’ll want to help them downsize their belongings for this next chapter. Downsizing for the elderly is bittersweet. Every item is attached to a person, and every room has a hundred memories walking through. This is an emotional time for anyone, but especially for a senior. You can help make the process more comfortable by helping them organize their belongings, find helpful places to donate the items they are purging and identify what stays and goes by asking:
- Do I use this often?
- Does this have sentimental value?
- Is this a family heirloom or would another family member cherish it?
- Do I have other belongings that serve the same or similar function?
- Is there a person or a group who could benefit from this item more than I?
Long-distance caregiving can have many setbacks and rewards. Do the best you can, be compassionate with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Getting the right care, even if it means hiring assistance, is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of love.