In today’s world, it’s common for family members to live in different cities and states. Sometimes it’s the parents who move away from the place where they raised their family, perhaps to retire to a warmer or more appealing climate. Often it is the children who move away.
Everything’s fine – and then something happens. A doctor calls in the middle of the night to say that your older parent 3,000 miles away has fallen and has been hospitalized. Or your mother, who lives several states away, calls to say she can no longer cope with your father’s illness. Calls for help – from a distance.
Many adult children must help from a distance when their older parents and other relatives need help. The task can be difficult, stressful, and time consuming. Can you deal with the problem over the phone or do you need to be there in person? That’s often one of the most difficult aspects of long-distance caregiving. Clear emergencies obviously require a trip. However, other situations can be difficult to judge over the phone.
Being miles away from older parents can also mean being miles away from local phone books and agencies that help older adults. Feeling frustrated can easily lead to feeling helpless when trying to access needed services from so far away.
There’s no magic answer, but the AARP offers these steps you can take to make the task more manageable.
• Gather information. Determine with your parents (and other family members) what help they need. Look for community services that help. You can get information over the phone and the Internet. The Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) can tell you which local agencies provide services and will refer you to the area agency on aging in your parents’ community.
• Be prepared. Before a crisis occurs, work with your parents to collect the necessary medical, financial and legal information. Know their doctors and medications, insurance information, assets, Social Security numbers. Perhaps you can keep a copy of their local phone book on hand, just in case.
• Make a list. Identify family, friends, clergy and others who might help. On your next visit, introduce yourself to neighbors and friends and keep their phone numbers and addresses. If you can’t reach your parent, calling these people can ease your mind. They may also be able to help with some needed tasks.
• Assess the situation. When you visit your parents, look for health or safety problems. Professional consultants are available to help older people and family members decide when an older adult needs assistance. Involve your parents in the assessment of their needs.
• Be sensitive to your parents’ views. Even though dealing with these issues can be frustrating, it’s important to maintain a positive focus. Explain that the services will help them remain independent. Explain how the services work. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone your parents respect recommend the service.
• Take care of your own needs. Learn and use coping skills, get support or counseling, and take time for yourself. Accept that it’s impossible to be everything to everyone. Ask for help when you need it. Most importantly, give yourself credit for doing the best you can.
For more caregiving information and advice, visit aarp.org.