Not long ago I wrote a column about care-giving for people with dementia. It brought a lot of positive response from readers who said they copied it for their family members and friends. Then I realized that not all of us are geographically near our older family members and perhaps I needed to consider what we can do from afar if or when any kind of care-giving needs arise. This is a concern for so many adult children, especially when the response they get when inquiring about an elderly parent’s health is usually “I’m fine!”
In my own situation, my widowed mother was living in a retirement community about 10 hours away from me and even further from my siblings. When she had an incident which ended up with her doctor suggesting she needed a pace maker, one of her new friends called me to tell me and said “I don’t know how you handle such things in your own family, but I thought you should know.”
There are more than 7 million people in this country playing the role of long distance caregiver. And for those who are far away from parents, that’s a lot of guilt to deal with!
At times like this, when we are far from family and don’t know their newer friends, we feel helpless and wish we could clone ourselves so that someone is nearby. While that isn’t possible yet, there are some things we can do from far away that will make both our elderly loved ones and ourselves feel a little more in control.
First, determine if there is someone in the community where your parent or other family member lives who can be counted on to ‘check in’ often to see how the person is doing. You can also contact the National Volunteer Caregiving Network which lists hundreds of free programs providing volunteers for such tasks as driving and light housekeeping. The chapters run a background check on the volunteers to check their driving records. One such organization in Northern California is at http://faithinactionsolano.org and others may be found at the National Volunteer Caregiving Network.
If you think your parent’s needs are more than what a volunteer can provide, there are other options. If they need help with basic activities like bathing or dressing, consider home health care. These aides, often nurses, can provide basic help, supervise medications and sometimes offer physical therapy. Medicare covers home health care under certain conditions so check your policy or go to the medicate website, www.medicare.gov.
For other non medical assistance, there are other agencies like www.homeinstead.com or www.comfortkeepers.com. Again, they can provide personal care, transportation, help with meals and other light housekeeping. Expect to pay around $25 an hour.
Either for your own peace of mind or if you think things are getting more complicated than you can handle from far away, consider hiring a certified geriatric care manager. These professionals are good at assessing needs and can provide ongoing management. Expect to pay an hourly rate, but often the assessment can be done quickly and they will give you a plan that you can execute long distance. And if you decide to hire them for ongoing issues, it is comforting to know that someone on site will keep you informed, connect you with your loved one’s doctors and coordinate care.
It is not quite the ‘village’ we would prefer for our loved ones, but that extra pair of eyes and ears may be worth it.