July 30, 2019

Long-Distance Caregiving

By Tammy Bryant
Fiscal Director, Alternatives

Those trips to Florida just aren’t what they used to be…

Nothing in this life prepares us for the transition from adult daughter or son to “long-distance caregiver.” Though I have been working for a social service agency serving the frail elderly for over 30 years, I still was not prepared. The transition happens, and you don’t even know it….

It starts when you realize those visits to “Florida” (or other snowbird zones) just seem different. Now when you go, you see things that you hadn’t before or may have noticed but now are more pronounced. E.g., Mom’s driving, hand tremors, stacked up mail or the house just isn’t as well kept as Mom always had. This is when I felt things had turned a corner; I would now enter the world of long-distance caregiving.

One of the biggest challenges is not knowing what is going on when you are not there. Your parents are hesitant to ask for help and tell you by phone everything is fine. This can take an emotional and even financial toll on you. How do you know if you are beginning this transition phase?

Start by making the most of your visits.

  • Look at their living situation; if mom has had a lot of falls, maybe it is time to remove the area rugs or rearrange the furniture.
  • Look in the cabinets and refrigerator. Do they have ample supplies? Is the food in the freezer and refrigerator fresh or are there things past their expiration date?
  • Ask about their social life, are there friends still nearby that stop over or a neighbor that looks in on them?
  • Check out that stack of mail! If there are unpaid bills or over-due notices it is time to have a conversation.

There is a lot you can do from a distance!

  • You can manage mom and dad’s finances; set up online bill paying and/or change the address of bills to come to you. You can be added to the bank account, set up automatic bill pay and obtain durable power of attorney and/or living wills. This will allow much of the finances to be managed from your home.
  • With consent forms signed by your parents, you can make doctor’s appointments and talk directly with the physician about medical issues.
  • You can purchase household supplies & groceries online and have them delivered to their home.
  • Call mom and dad on a routine. It can make their day, change their mood and keep you up to date. This regular calling becomes part of their routine too and helps increase dialogue about what challenges they may be having. You will pick up on issues by listening to how they sound and asking questions, “are you feeling ok?” or “how do you think dad is feeling today?”

It doesn’t all have to happen at once and your parents may be more amenable to your helping with just one item first. For additional resources or support tools, feel free to contact Alternatives and ask for Caregiver Support at 309-277-0167.

Tammy Bryant, Fiscal Director
Alternatives for the Older Adult
Kathy Weiman is CEO at Alternatives. She can be reached at 800-798-0988 or KWeiman@alternativesforyou.org.