What does caring for the elderly imply and what is different about it in 2022?
When you think about how technology and modern medicine have evolved in the past decade, you might expect that we can provide for our elders in the most innovative ways.
We have developed various devices and services to make their lives easier, safer, and fuller, even when we can only help our elderly parents from a distance. We enjoy online messaging and video calls, meal delivery services, and have access to the best home monitoring system on the market—among other things we rely on.
However, progress is sometimes hindered by unexpected events—most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all felt its effects on our daily lives: in our relationships, in our physical and mental health, our job performance, and how we interact with our environment. Implicitly, it has affected caregiving as well.
The silver lining during these challenging times was that our society had demonstrated resilience, solidarity, and the ability to think on its feet. Even though the pandemic has been slowly receding, it’s helpful to assess the challenges we continue to face to some degree, and how we have learned to cope when caring for the elderly. The goal is to help the people most dear to us, to the best of our ability, no matter what lies ahead.
What Are Caregiving And Long-Distance Caregiving?
First of all, caregiving implies caring for anyone of old age, ill, or disabled. It includes day-to-day activities we assist in—that provide emotional or financial support to any friend or family member in need of our help.
This article will focus on what caring for the elderly means, particularly how families can play an active role in supporting an aging parent.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are about 53 million family caregivers in the U.S. Caring for seniors is a different experience for everyone because it depends on their needs and background.
Long-distance caregiving applies to the people in the caregiver role, who live an hour or more away from the loved ones in need of their help.
Regardless of the distance, there are a few essential things that every caregiver should know:
• Medical know-how. Talk to your parents’ primary care physician to learn about their medical history, what treatment they have followed in the past, and what medicine they currently need—if any. It is crucial to be up to date because it helps you anticipate or prevent any health issues. You can write it all down in a notebook or on a Google spreadsheet.
• Understand their overall health needs. Do they need regular medical appointments? Are they getting regular exercise and adequate nutrition?
• It takes a village here too. Don’t try to do everything alone; ask other family members and trusted friends to carry out some tasks—this is particularly useful in long-distance caregiving;
• Join a support group. Consider joining a support group dedicated to family caregivers, especially if there is no one else around that you can talk to or ask for caregiving tips;
• Knowledge is key. Keep yourself informed about any outside events that may impact your lives, as well as caregiving in general. The book “How to Care for Aging Parents” is a great place to start, as it describes the role in a compassionate and assertive tone;
• Safety first. Make sure your elderly parents live in a clean and safe environment;
• Have a plan. When it comes to emergencies, do they have a bag with essentials if they need to rush to a hospital? Are all their important documents in one place?
• Settle issues on finances and healthcare. It is a heavy topic, but extremely important to clarify, as any uncertainty or loose end can cause a great deal of (legal) trouble in the long run;
• Take care of your parents, but don’t ignore self-care. It’s the classic story about putting on your oxygen mask before assisting the people around you.
These are some of the most important aspects of caregiving for your elderly parents. They also ease the stress associated with the responsibility. More often than not, we are anxious when we have no control over a situation or don’t have enough information.
How to Help Elderly Parents From a Distance
Caring for the elderly from afar comes with its challenges. Not having your parents live with you can bring out some worry and stress. Unless they need 24/7 assistance, you ought to maintain a relaxed attitude. Talk to them about how to be more present in each other’s lives; establish conditions and boundaries.
Sometimes, older adults refuse any help and are vocal about how they love driving their car and gardening every day. But humans are social beings, so your elderly parents will at least need your emotional support.
A survey done by Pew Research Center had shown that among all adults with an elderly parent, 69% of them said that their parents didn’t need any support. Still, the remainder would correspond to over 16 million senior citizens in the U.S. (54.1 million – the number of elderly people in the US in 2019). Moreover, 61% admitted to relying on their caregivers for emotional support from time to time.
In addition to the above steps, if you are fulfilling the role of a long-distance family caregiver, you may also take into consideration the following suggestions:
Spend quality time together whenever possible
As expressed in the beginning, the pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. Because of it, we had to get used to spending less time with our loved ones and taking special precautions like quarantining or sitting in separate rooms, with masks on, or with open windows.
A study that appeared in Pubmed in 2021 revealed more challenges for caregivers, such as ”increased anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, lower social participation, lower financial wellbeing, increased food insecurity, and more financial worries”. It is indeed worrying, considering that the previously mentioned study only expressed that caregivers were often short of time, but did not feel overwhelmed with all the responsibilities. This includes those in the so-called “sandwich generation”, the middle-aged adults who are in the position of both parenting their children and caregiving their elderly parents.
Thankfully, as the danger dissipates, more and more US states are ending mask mandates indoors, and we can visit our family more often. However, some degree of caution is useful, especially for children and seniors, who generally have a weaker immune system.
Nowadays, you can watch a movie together, go to the park, or ask your parents to show you their backyard bounty. These are a few suggestions, but more important is to talk to them about what they would prefer to do.
Maintain communication with your aging parents
Unfortunately, as a long-distance caregiver, you cannot check in on your parents as often as you like. That is why you need to establish some safety measures.
Firstly, the National Institute on Aging recommends getting in touch with a geriatric care manager. They are a trained professional who assists you in forming and undertaking a caregiving plan and providing information. They also offer services like counseling and mediating difficult conversations.
Secondly, it is a good idea to make sure your parents have a cell phone that they know how to use. You can also give them a notebook with all the necessary phone numbers if they cannot browse the contact list.
Consider using a device for in-home care
We mentioned earlier how adamant our elderly parents could be to defend their autonomy, which we should respect. Crossing a line like invading their privacy is something we don’t want to do. We can imagine that there have been caregivers who tried to help their parents from afar by installing cameras. Needing to monitor their daily activities is somehow justified, but that is not the most effective nor respectful solution.
If you are looking for a modern and discreet solution when caring for the elderly, our company has developed CareAlert—a modern monitoring system for seniors to bring everyone peace of mind. You plug the device into a wall outlet and its sensors track things like motion, temperature, and air quality. It is equipped with an AI that learns the habits of your parents. It can detect atypical behaviours like long periods of inactivity, going to the bathroom too often, or forgetting their medication.
The device connects to an app on your phone that keeps you updated about your parents’ well-being, while they carry on with their daily tasks. You can learn about all of its features on our website.
It appears that monitoring systems have proven their utility even more lately—due to social distancing or emigration—and people feel safer using them.
Despite global issues that sometimes take their toll on caregiving, there is always a way to bounce back. We even get to do our job as caregivers better than before. Many times, it’s the crises that motivate us to work together and find solutions for a better life.
As such, in the past years, we have gathered the soundest approach to taking care of our loved ones. We have found ways that not only provide our elderly parents with safety but also bring us peace of mind. The innovative and discreet monitoring system for seniors is an important asset.
Let us know in the comments if you found this article useful. Would you like to learn more about alert systems or caring for the elderly? If you need our help choosing the best monitoring device for your parents’ home, feel free to contact us.