Expert

Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Care for our aging parents, especially those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, is difficult whether we are there, or at a distance. Learn some practical tips that will help you care for a relative who lives in another state or country.

Ben, his wife, and two school age children had lived out of the U.S. for several years.  Though he had grown up in the urban area where his parents still lived, he had spent most of his career in other cities around the globe, and was now almost 10,000 miles away.  He visited at least twice per year, either alone, or with his family.  Both his parents had enjoyed good health during their adult years, and for a long time, there were no concerns.  Over the years of visits and regular phone calls, he did what he could, but for the most part, his parents were self-sufficient and able to manage their lives. 

Then things began to change.  Via email, neighbors were reporting worrisome behaviors.  His father was exhibiting signs of dementia.  He liked to wander around outside, and take breaks by falling asleep on park benches.  The toll it was taking on his mother was evident when he spoke with her on the phone. Though she was trying to keep an eye on her husband and care for him, she too had some health issues, but had little time to get care.

Even from almost 10,000 miles away, Ben was able to put together a plan to assure his parent’s well-being and safety.  Here is what he did:

  • He learned from a colleague that he needed a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM).  Not knowing what that was, he looked on the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers website for GCMs in his area.  Reaching out to a few of them, he ultimately decided on one to meet with during an upcoming trip.  His goal was to get the GCM onboard to help him put together a plan of care for his parents, help him hire a caregiver for his father, and then be his “eyes and ears” and manage their care once he needed to return home.  The care manager identified caregivers for Ben to interview, and one was selected within 48 hours.
  • With a fulltime caregiver in place, and the GCM monitoring and managing the care situation, Ben was able to return home.  He remained in contact via phone, email, and Skype.  He spoke with his mother at least once a week.  Admittedly, it took some time for her to adjust to the presence of the caregiver, but within a few months, they were indeed comfortable in their roles and in how they cared for Ben’s father.  Over time, she relaxed and became very comfortable allowing the caregiver to do his work and care for her spouse.  Later on, as her needs increased, she was very comfortable with the caregiver and willing to let him help her.

The Savvy Internet User

Ben was so accustomed to staying in contact via all methods of technology, sometimes it seemed like he was not so far away.  He ordered groceries and other household items via the internet and had them delivered to his parents.  In time and with trust, he gave the caregiver a debit card to use for taxi rides or essential items for his parents, and he monitored card usage via the internet. 

The Crises Still Came

A few times along the way, both parents had some medical emergencies, each requiring hospitalization. During these events, the caregiver remained with them in the hospital. When necessary for his mother, a second caregiver was brought in to stay with her.  The GCM and the caregiver remained in contact with Ben, updating him on all events, and when necessary, putting the physicians in contact with him. During one critical medical emergency and hospitalization, Ben flew back to see his father while in the hospital.

Pleased with the Quality of their Lives

Overall, Ben was pleased with the quality of care his parents were receiving. Neither of his parents would have lived as long or as well without the presence of the caregivers.  

How Did This Work So Well?

Over the years of his long distance caregiving, Ben did many things that absolutely worked, both for he and for his parents: 

Early Planning:

Prior to these later stages of their lives, his parents had already established Living Wills and Powers of Attorney.  He helped them manage their money and assets, both electronically, and with the assistance of local professionals and some family to get work done when needed.  As their ability to manage their finances lessened, Ben was easily able to increase his oversight and management.  He was also their power of attorney for health care, so when the need arose, he could speak via phone to the physicians and make decisions during critical events.

Local Help:

When the situation warranted it, he reached out for local help. By hiring a geriatric care manager and hiring caregivers, he put care in place in his parents own home so they could age in place.  The care manager and caregiver were able to take the reins of his parents daily care, manage medications, accompany them on physician appointments, assure good nutrition, and assure their overall safety. 

Regular Contact and Monitoring:

Ben visited at least twice a year, and stayed in regular contact via phone and video chats.  This way, he could keep an eye on things.  He remained in constant contact with the caregiver and care manager.  He was readily available to help the caregiver understand his parents in a way only a family member could.

Care for our aging parents, especially those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, is difficult whether we are there, or at a distance.  But distance puts added emphasis on planning, reaching out to others for help, and regular monitoring from afar.  With that, we can make sure our parents have the proper care and quality of life, and give ourselves peace of mind.

BrightFocus Foundation is a nonprofit organization supporting research and public education to help eradicate brain and eye diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma. For more information, call 1-800-437-2423.

 

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