People used to live and work in the same small communities for most of their lives. They stayed close to their families and rarely ventured more than a few miles from their homes. My, how times have changed! These days, families can be around the block or around the world. You may have relatives in far-flung countries that you’ve never seen, or live a continent away from your closest kin. All this makes it a challenge when it comes to day-to-day tasks, like family caregiving. But there are ways to help and support your loved one from a distance – no matter how far apart you are.
Pick up the phone
One of the easiest and most obvious solutions in family caregiving is picking up the phone. But make it a phone call with a purpose: the occasional, sporadic chat is unlikely to make a significant difference. Although it’s lovely to call on birthdays and holidays, your senior may begin to think they are something of an “obligation” to you, rather than a person you enjoy speaking with.
Regular calls are something your senior can look forward to, but they serve another purpose as well. They allow you to have more detailed conversations about the senior’s life and health. After a time, he or she may feel more comfortable letting you know if there’s a problem. Likewise, you’ll be able to pick up more quickly on things like tone of voice to see if your senior seems depressed.
Don’t forget — if your senior is deaf or hard of hearing, try to arrange for them to have a high-volume phone, or another assistive device so that they can enjoy your call. Other “long-distance” communication options include sending packages and flowers. If your senior is computer-literate, you can even talk to them by e-mail, G-chat, or Skype!
Often, seniors need services such as meal preparation, transportation, housecleaning, and someone to run errands if they are unable to do so. If they lack family members or friends close by, completing these tasks can be difficult. However, it’s still possible for far-flung loved ones to help. One way is by creating and contributing to a family pool that pays for things they need. Another is by coordinating services for the senior.
Consider having a “point person” in the family to solicit and collect funds or arrange various services. Although it can be difficult to talk about touchy subjects like money, many people are happy to pitch in when they can’t provide family caregiving personally. For those who are a little more reluctant, gentle reminders about how others are contributing – and how the senior truly appreciates the help — may do the trick.
One of the things collected funds can go toward is hiring a professional home health aide to be with the senior when you can’t. Doing so takes much of the burden of family caregiving off you and offers peace of mind and companionship to your senior.
In addition to completing some of the activities listed above (such as meal preparation), a hired aide can monitor your loved one’s health and well-being. They can assist with dressing, bathing, toileting, and even accompanying your senior to doctors’ visits. If they notice any negative changes in the senior’s condition, they can contact you immediately. Home health aides that are part of larger agencies can also recommend auxiliary staff such as nurses, therapists, nutritionists, and other professionals as needed.
Family caregiving that always feels close by
There’s no doubt that being far away from loved ones is difficult. In addition to the emotional pain of separation, you may feel badly about not being able to provide caregiving on a personal level. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you can to let your senior know you care. Offer support in whatever way you’re able, knowing you have done your best to show your love – no matter how many miles may be between you!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.