Long-Distance Caregiving: Caring for an Elderly Parent When You Live Out of State
Maybe you moved away from your hometown for a job. Maybe your parents moved to a warmer climate after retirement. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself living in another state from an aging parent, you may be concerned about how to meet their changing needs. As elder law attorneys, we see this scenario of long-distance caregiving frequently.
If your parent is still in reasonably good health and has the capacity to manage their own affairs, now is the time to talk to them about providing for their needs in the future, including planning ahead for help with finances and healthcare. If you see signs that they are beginning to struggle, then there is no time to waste.
Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving
Long-distance caregiving may seem like an impossibility, but there are things that you can do to help your elderly parent thrive, even from across the miles. Here are some strategies for long-distance caregiving that we have identified from our many years of working with older people and their families.
Talk to Your Parent
Regardless of your parent’s current health and functioning, the first step in long-distance caregiving is to talk to them. It may be challenging, especially if you are worried about their functioning, but ask open-ended questions about how they are doing and what they could use help with.
It’s natural to be anxious and concerned, especially if you have noticed signs of decline. But asserting that your parent needs to move to your location, or go into assisted living, is likely to make them defensive and unwilling to share any concerns that they have. Try to keep the lines of communication open by treating them as the adult they are, and yourself as a supportive partner in getting their needs met. When discussing your worries, stick to factual observations rather than panicked fears. Think “Last time I was home, I noticed you forgot to turn the stove off twice when you were done with it,” rather than “You’re going to burn the house down!”
Enlist Help on the Ground
Depending on how far away you are, you may only get to see your parent once or a few times a year. That’s not enough to gauge their changing needs. Ideally, you can be in touch with a nearby family member, neighbor, friend, clergy member, or someone else who sees your parent more often. What do they notice? Do they have concerns about your parent’s health, safety, or functioning? Are they able to check in on your parent at home? Connecting with a trusted local support person accomplishes a few things: it offers additional protection to your parent; it gets needed information to you; and it ensures the local person knows whom to contact if they have worries about your parent.
Set Your Older Parent Up for Safety
Take advantage of your limited opportunities to visit to assess the safety of your older parent’s home with a fresh eye. Falls are an increasing cause of serious injury and even death to seniors. Simple measures like installing handrails in bathrooms and removing rugs that are trip hazards can make a difference.
Take Advantage of Technology
There’s no substitute for being able to actually be with your aging parent, but obviously, that’s not always possible when you live out of state. Fortunately, there are high-tech home helpers for seniors that can put both of your minds at ease. These include everything from phone apps to help keep track of appointments and medications, to personal safety devices like LifeAlert and even a “robot roommate.”
And while the pandemic has certainly made life harder in many ways for seniors, food, pharmacy, and grocery delivery services have made it easier for older Americans to get many basic needs met without needing to drive. Driving is often a concern for family members of older people who have issues with vision, reflexes, or Alzheimer’s or other dementia that may cause them to get lost easily or even forget how to operate a car. Helping a parent get set up for telemedicine visits can help them access their medical team from the safety of their own home.
The measures above can help an older parent remain safely in their home for longer than they otherwise might be able to. However, the reality for many seniors, especially those with dementia, is that they will need help caring for themselves.
Depending on the circumstances, that could mean a variety of things. Is your parent willing to move in with you, or to residential care in your area? Is moving closer to them a viable option? If not, is it economically feasible for them to remain in their home with the help of a paid caregiver? What are the available alternatives to long-term care? If they need to be in a residential care setting, what level of care do they need, and what are the options to pay for long-term care?
If you are worried about your aging parent, just reading that list of questions may be anxiety-provoking. However, you don’t have to explore and evaluate options on your own. Consult with an experienced elder law attorney regarding Elder Transitions Planning. An attorney who focuses on the needs of senior adults knows the resources available to help you and your parent. Connecting with an elder law attorney may be the best way to provide long-distance caregiving for an aging parent.
To learn more about long-distance caregiving for dementia or other health issues, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.