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Long-Distance Caregiving: How to Help Elderly Parents from a Distance

The growing number of aging Americans means more elderly parents will need assistance. Many adult children don’t live nearby, with the Family Caregiver Alliance reporting that five to seven million US citizens are long-distance caregivers who live at least 450 miles from a parent that needs support. Even an hour’s drive, however, can make it challenging for a child to provide help.

If you are one of them, here are effective ways to help elderly parents from afar while letting them maintain their dignity and independence.

Set up financial oversight

With the ease of online bill payments and tracking of bank and retirement accounts, elderly parents can benefit from giving their long-distance caregiver access to help manage or oversee transactions and avoid missed payments or spot potential fraud. Even simply setting up automatic payments for recurring bills can alleviate stress and prevent mistakes.

Arrange for in-home care or services

As parents age, some tasks can become difficult or unsafe, including cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, bathing, getting dressed, driving, and home maintenance. 

Discuss with your parents what chores are too difficult for them to handle, then arrange to have a friend, reputable company or home health aide assist them if you can’t perform the tasks during in-person visits or from a distance. Listen to and reassess your parents’ needs often and stay in contact with any primary caregiver so you can stay abreast of any changes.

Manage medical care

Dealing with medical appointments, medications and insurance is daunting for the best of us. For elderly adults who struggle with memory or organizational skills, this is more overwhelming still.

Here are things you can do to help:

  • Schedule medical, dental and vision appointments.
  • Set up an emergency alert and contact system, such as LifeAlert.
  • Arrange rides to appointments if necessary.
  • Ensure insurance claims and bills are accurate and paid on time.
  • Manage prescription refills and delivery.
  • Remind parents and the primary caregiver of upcoming appointments.
  • Create an emergency packet with all pertinent paperwork (DNR, living will, medical POA, etc.).

Have your parents give written and verbal permission to healthcare providers so you can speak on their behalf and access medical information, such as test results. Keep a binder of all health-related paperwork for quick reference or if another family member needs to take over your role.

Create a local support system

Reach out to your parents’ friends or neighbors and ask if they can help form a support system to make daily phone calls or visit once a week or month to play games, have a meal or chat. Maintaining social ties improves aging adults’ mental and physical well-being and keeps more eyes on them.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician consultant, told Healthline, “We know social isolation is a serious threat to health and affects us mentally and physically.” In addition, the National Institute on Aging says research links social isolation to a more heightened risk of high blood pressure, depression, cognitive decline, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and obesity.

Look into resources that can help keep elderly parents connected socially, such as free transportation to the local seniors’ center for activities or places they can volunteer and help others.

Make every visit count

Visiting your elderly parents can help you see what caregiving tasks may need updating, such as adding grab bars in the shower or having hot meals delivered.

The main purpose of your visit, however, should remain socializing with your parents. Engaging them, giving them your full attention and time and acknowledging how much you appreciate them will allow you to feel closer, relax and create new memories.

Before your visit, connect with your parents’ support network to get their feedback on what is or is not working and what they think can improve the situation. Also, arrange to cover for the primary caretaker while you are visiting to give them a well-deserved break!

The Oaks at Denville is a premier Life Plan Community backed by a century of experience and expertise from Springpoint—one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest nonprofit providers of independent living, assisted living, and home-based services and programs for older adults.

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