January 23, 2023
As our parents' children, we don't always realize that our loved ones will not be young forever. The idea that you would one day have to take care of your parents in their old age may not even cross your mind. It’s not because we don’t understand the unforgiving passage of time; it’s that we usually have a deep (and irrational) belief that our parents will always be there for us, stoic and invincible, and mentor us as we create a life, a career, or a family for ourselves.
For many of us, the wake-up call that exposes their fragility can be an accident at home or an unexpected illness that pushes us outside our comfort zone to tend to their needs — as they had always done for us.
When you decide to take care of your parents or grandparents as they age, you are taking on one of the most rewarding and hardest tasks of your life.
On the one hand, we all want our loved ones to age gracefully, be in good health, and enjoy a carefree retirement as much as possible. So, being able to play at least a small part in that feels like the right and loving thing to do. On the other hand, caregiving can be physically and emotionally taxing, and certain responsibilities may catch us off guard.
However, this article is here to help. It will cover the essential information you need to know about how to help elderly parents from a distance to prepare you for whatever comes next.
Just to provide a bit of context, it’s worth mentioning that on a large scale, seniors are living longer lives than at any other time in history. This can result in a variety of challenges, ranging from dealing with cognitive impairment to a “deficit” of family caregivers able to meet their unique needs. That’s why it’s essential to educate ourselves and prepare for some unprecedented issues as a society.
Chances are if you are a family caregiver, you do it voluntarily, as is the case for more than 17 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. Furthermore, like 47% of family caregivers, you probably haven’t received any formal training for it — learning as you go instead — so there is a legitimate fear of making mistakes.
According to a report by the Board on Health Care Services, caregivers who are not adequately prepared can deal with:
Seniors also have to suffer when caregivers are not adequately prepared or supported. They may receive poor quality or fragmented care, or they may be subjected to neglect or abuse.
Whether your aging loved one is part of the 77% of seniors in the U.S. who want to age independently in their own homes or one of the 2.5 million who benefit from an assisted living facility or nursing home, they need your support just as much.
As caregivers ourselves and creators of a modern monitoring system for seniors, we have dealt with various issues in caregiving first-hand. Thankfully, there is plenty we can control to make sure our loved ones are always safe.
We have narrowed everything down to these six steps:
Here are the most important conversations you will need to have — the sooner you get these issues out of the way, the better:
Sometimes, helping someone can require a bit of negotiation and diplomacy. If your parent isn’t willing to talk about a certain matter, ask them to think about it and resume the conversation at a later date. You can also suggest they discuss with a trustworthy professional like a social worker, a doctor or a lawyer, depending on the issue.
It can be difficult to keep track of all the details while managing long-distance care. Making sure your aging parents are well taken care of from afar takes a lot of organization and accurate record-keeping.
Ideally, you should keep detailed information regarding their medication, doctor’s appointments, and financial information for long-term planning.
It's also a good idea to appoint someone to manage finances if your parents aren't able to do it themselves. This will help prevent assets from mismanagement and fraud.
Even if you are the primary caretaker, you will need all the help you can get from your siblings, friends, other relatives, trustworthy neighbors, or even volunteers.
Having a support system is not only essential for a sustainable caregiving endeavor, but someone will always be ready to step in for you in case of an emergency.
While family members will not always be in agreement about the care arrangements, in our experience, families settle their differences and pull together in support of their loved one. But it’s your job as a primary caregiver to bring everyone on the same page — we highly recommend this book by the Harvard Negotiation Project as an excellent road map to difficult conversations.
You might also like to check out the Eldercare Locator. It is a free national service that provides resources for independent living, as well as practical support for caregivers and seniors. For example, if you need assistance with meal deliveries, transportation, or legal advice for your elderly loved one, they can help you get in touch with the right people.
Having the support of a professional care team is essential when managing long-distance care.
Make sure to keep contact with your parent’s primary doctor, nurse practitioner, geriatric care managers, and any other specialists they may need.
Being aware of the professionals involved will help you stay on top of their needs and ensure all issues are addressed in a timely manner. Regular contact with the team can also help you detect potential problems early on.
One of the most crucial aspects of this job is preventing safety issues at home and generally ensuring that their living conditions are healthy.
Make sure to inspect their home for any wobbly furniture, slippery floors, old wires or broken household devices that may pose a threat. You can also install grab bars around stairs or showers — to be honest, they are helpful at any age.
See our article on how to prevent falls at home for more information.
As a long-distance caregiver, you can’t help but ask yourself if your aging parents are alright every day: if they took their medication on time, if they arrived home safely after running their errands, if they remembered to turn off the stove, and much more.
For everyone’s peace of mind, technology can be a great asset to stay connected with elderly loved ones. And seniors are more open to using it than they are usually given credit. According to research, mobile and internet technologies empower older adults by promoting social activities, minimizing cognitive and physical decline, reducing loneliness, and helping with daily tasks.
For communication, applications like WhatsApp and Skype are a great way to keep in touch every day. You can even set up scheduled time slots so your parent can expect to hear from you on a consistent basis.
Technology has also come a long way to help you better take care of your parents and assist seniors with maintaining an independent lifestyle.
CareAlert is an advanced monitoring system for seniors, designed primarily for long-distance caregiving. It consists of one or more devices plugged-in throughout their house, as well as a smartphone application for the caregiver.
The devices’ sensors collect information about the living spaces (air quality, temperature, light, and motion), interprets it, and sends the results to the app's dashboard, on the caregiver’s smartphone.
CareAlert also functions as a nightlight, a daily check-in app for seniors (for medicine reminders), and it can help them get in touch with you with a simple push of a button, similar to an intercom.
Furthermore, CareAlert may be coupled with a variety of health tech devices that gather and show information such as blood pressure, heart rate, and weight. That way, you can keep track of the data for when you need to address it with your parent’s primary doctor.
Most of all, it’s discreet; it doesn’t collect audio or visual material from the living spaces. Unlike “nanny cams”, for example, that raise some legal and ethical concerns (and which most seniors dislike), you and your loved ones will not face any privacy issues with CareAlert.
In this article, we covered the most important tasks that await you as a long-distance caregiver, as well as the technology that can help you keep up with your caregiving tasks and maintain communication with your elderly loved ones:
We highly recommend checking out our previous articles where we go into detail for each point we touched upon here. You will find a lot of practical advice on how to take care of your parents in their old age, even when you can only do it long distance.