stressed out long distance caregiver on phoneWhen you are a senior caregiver trying to ensure the safety of an older loved one, there are many challenges that arise.  Trying to do it long-distance can compound these problems.  As a long-distance senior caregiver, you probably spend a lot of time worrying and dealing with concerns over the phone.  It may be difficult to feel you truly know what is going on with your elderly parent/loved one.  Even if you have a sibling or local support helping your elderly parent, you might wonder if you are doing enough.

Here we offer some tips and solutions for major challenges of long-distance caregiving:

Challenge 1: It can be tough to know what is going on with your loved one via phone or occasional visits.  How will you spot changes and potential problems?  How can you check on day-to-day functioning to know when help might be needed?

Solution: Consider hiring home caregivers to assist with some tasks.  Even if your loved one is reluctant about care, you may be able to convince him/her to hire someone to help with household tasks or errands.  If the caregiver visits on a regular basis, they provide another set of eyes and ears.  You might also want to consider the services of a geriatric care manager, to perform an initial assessment and/or provide oversight visits.

Challenge 2: Improper management of medications can be dangerous, especially for seniors.  When you live at a distance, you may not be aware that your loved one is having trouble with medications.  If you lived locally, you might help manage prescriptions, fill a medication dispenser and go over instructions/reminders.

Solution: A medication management R.N. can assist with managing prescriptions and filling a medication dispenser for your loved one.  You can consider an electronic dispenser that provides reminders if your loved one needs them, or maybe you want to call with reminders as another chance to check in.  If your loved one needs ongoing reminders and other assistance, home caregivers can be hired to help.  Some pharmacies/services will also package medications in a more easy-to-use format, such as blister packs which include the various medications to be taken at a certain time.  Talk to medical providers about ways to simplify the medication regime as well.

Challenge 3:  Your loved one is sent to the hospital and you are miles away.  You might work to get there, but in the meantime you don’t want your loved one to be alone and frightened at the hospital.  Sometimes it may just not be possible to get there.  Or, once you fly into town to be there, you may need some backup help so you can handle other tasks and rest.

Solution: Hospital sitters can be hired to stay with your loved one at the hospital.  They can also take shifts to relieve you or help if you need to return home or manage other tasks.  EasyLiving and other home health agencies typically provide sitter services to local hospitals.  You can check with the hospital for a list of companies.  As a long-distance caregiver, this is worth checking in to prior to having an emergency so you have a resource to call without having to scramble.  If your loved one already has home caregivers, it is likely the home health agency can assist with this need.  It’s another great reason to connect with services prior to a crisis.

Challenge 4:  It can be very difficult to coordinate/manage medical care from afar.  Families often tell us they get vague answers from their aging parents when they ask about doctor’s appointments and they worry about follow up and coordination.

Solution:  First, take care of the legal and logistical matters of assisting.  If your loved one permits your assistance, he/she should work with an attorney to complete a Healthcare Proxy/Healthcare Power of Attorney in case of future incapacity.  This document provides a designated person to assist when the person is deemed unable to handle his/her affairs.  A person with capacity can also designate who can receive information and be involved with his/her medical care.  Ask the doctor’s office about how the person can designate that information (it is typically part of the privacy paperwork the patient completes).  If this is done and the provider uses an electronic system, they may be able to provide you access so you can see results, message the doctor, etc.

In addition to the internal electronic systems mentioned above, there are online resources that can help you to organize and manage your loved one’s care.  If you work in coordination with other family members or professionals, this can really make things easier.  Depending on the situation, you may want to hire a geriatric care manager as patient advocate to attend doctor’s appointments and assist with coordination and communication.  When any of us is dealing with major medical issues or hearing serious news about our health, we benefit from having someone there to listen and support.

Challenge 5: Coming to town for a visit starts to turn in to an endless list of tasks you have to accomplish, which can be stressful for you but worse for your loved one.  This can cause stress and arguments if you are forcing issues that you feel need to be dealt with quickly.

Solution:  Call us today to receive a long-distance caregiver checklist to help organize your visits.  It helps you to think of the issues you should cover during a visit, but also how to incorporate some down time.  You might also benefit from reading two great resources we love about communicating with elders and considering the differing perspectives: How to Say it To Seniors by David Solie and Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher.  Do your homework in advance, checking out resources and information online, calling local resources to ask some questions, and scheduling appointments in advance.  But, make sure to leave some room for family time and rest.

These are just a few of the major challenges when caring for an aging parent long distance.  What problems or concerns have you experienced?  We welcome your comments about concerns and resources!

Need help?  Contact our Senior Care Consultants at 727-447-5845 to discuss your need and concerns.  EasyLiving offers home caregivers, hospital sitters, free home care assessments and many services to help long-distance caregivers who have loved ones in Pinellas and Pasco counties.  We also offer geriatric care management services from our Aging Wisely team, for comprehensive geriatric assessments and patient advocacy/oversight services.

*Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/