Ways to Care For a Senior When They Live Far Away

If you’re working and raising a family while worrying about the well-being of your aging parent or parents, you’re not alone.

A senior citizen or older adult is defined as someone 65+ years or older, and there are 56 million in the U.S., which accounts for 16.9% of the population. The “sandwich generation” are those with aging parents or loved ones 65+ and a child under 18. According to Mental Health America, this generation is in their 40s and 50s, totaling 11 million.

If you’re part of the sandwich generation, rest assured that you likely have friends, colleagues, and employees who are also a part of this generation. In addition, many in this group struggle daily to care for an aging loved one, whether they live close or far away.

Living far away from a loved senior has its own set of difficulties.

The high emotional stress and financial strain of worrying that your loved one is safe and well when you can’t see them daily can cause physical symptoms such as tiredness, confusion, and changes in appetite, to name a few.

These can impact the quality of your life and those around you.

We understand these difficulties, and it is just one of many reasons for our mission to provide services that “promote the ability of older persons to live their lives in dignity” wherever they call home.

To help you take care of your senior loved one from a distance, here are some top things you can do to help ensure their safety and well-being:

Stay In Touch

With today’s technology, there are many ways to stay in touch. You no longer need to be physically present to check in.

First, help your loved one find the best device for them. While a smartphone is easy for you and some seniors, it may be too difficult for others. The best device is the easiest for them to use and one that they will actually use.

If your loved one is living alone, set up regular calls daily, bi-weekly, and at a specified time.

Maybe you can spend time with them while they eat a meal, so they’re not alone.

When talking with them, try to ask open-ended questions to help you assess how they’re doing.

  • What are you eating for dinner/lunch/breakfast?
    You can find out what they’re eating and maybe when they ate last.
  • How are you feeling? Are you taking your medications?
    If you’re on a video chat, you can see them, and maybe they can show you their meds and how they keep them organized. Asking questions about their medications can help you determine if they need help with managing their meds.
  • Did you take a shower today, or when was the last time you took a shower?
    You may find out from their answers that they need extra help with personal care, such as bathing.
  • When is your next doctor’s appointment? When? How are you getting there?
    Maybe they need transportation to medical and other appointments.
  • Other areas of conversation can include:
    • Do they feel safe at home?
    • Do they have clean clothes for the week? They might need help with household chores like laundry.
    • Any times coming up that they plan to spend with friends? Are they getting outside and socializing?

Plan Visits

While talking on the phone or visiting on a video call is a great way to stay connected, there is no substitute for being in the same room as someone. Visiting in person can help you determine how well they are moving and getting around the house. It can also help you see if they are struggling with everyday tasks that you can’t assess from a phone or video call.

A little planning should go into your visit.

Asking them if they are running low on supplies or need something can help you determine if they might need additional help around the house. For example, if they tell you they have been without a working vacuum cleaner for a while, you might be able to determine if they are struggling with keeping the floors clean.

By talking about your visit ahead of time, you can take care of some things ahead of time which can make your visit more about them and less about errands.

Visits can also be a good time to talk about financial issues as well as home maintenance issues that should be addressed. These topics are often difficult to have on the phone.

Some topics for your visit:

  • Is all financial and legal paperwork in order? Where can you find important documents in case you need them? Are you or someone you trust Power of Attorney? Who has permission to make medical and legal choices for them?
  • Do they need new clothes for the upcoming season or do they need help arranging their closet so the right clothes are easier to find?
  • Check around to see if they could use some home maintenance updates or additions to keep them safe and to make things easier for them.
    • Add grab bars in showers or around the toilet
    • Purchase a bench for the bathtub
    • Install a hand-held showerhead
    • Get raised toilet seats
    • Check the sturdiness of hand and stair railings
    • Get non-skid strips on stairs
    • Check locks, deadbolts, and window locks
    • Install a peephole or chain for the front door
    • Check the batteries of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to make sure they are working
  • Ask to go with them on their next doctor’s visit to ask questions or to get an overall update on their health. This might also give them peace of mind with you accompanying them.

Create A Care Team

Everyone needs a good support team. For seniors, having a team of professionals, friends, or family “on the ground” makes a difference.

Make a point to know who is in the senior’s life. Get their phone numbers and email and check in with them periodically. Chances are, they will notice small changes in the seniors’ life before you will.

Your loved one’s team can be eyes and ears for you between your calls and visits and can get to them quickly if needed. Find out what roles everyone can play, from emergency contact to drop-in visits, driving to doctors’ appointments, and home repair.

Keeping a list of everyone in your loved one’s life and their contact information can give you added peace of mind when you live far away or your visits are infrequent.

There are also apps available that make coordinating the help you need easy, such as lotsa helping hands.

A final thought on caregiving from a distance

Of the 34 million Americans who care for older family members, roughly 15 percent are long-distance caregivers. These caregivers live at least an hour’s drive from the older adults they care for, typically their parents. In addition, some caregivers are helping to care for siblings.

Caregiving from a distance is worrisome and can be fatiguing. Having a care team can make this easier.

We at DSCC are proud to be a part of many care teams. Through our services like Friendly Visits, Friendly Phone Calls, Home Delivered Meals, and Minor Home Repairs, we take away some of the worries from those long-distance caregivers and family members.

Learn more about how we can help if you are a long-distance caregiver.

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