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Long Distance Caregiving: Tips to Managing Your Aging Parents’ Needs

February 15th, 2010

Written by: Stephanie Erickson, MSW, PSW, LCSW

As our parents age, it becomes harder and harder to feel secure that they are safe and healthy in their home. This becomes even more difficult if we do not live nearby and are unable to “pop in” to make sure they are okay. We are left to rely on their self-report of their situation.

If our parents have memory problems, we wonder if they are accurately reporting what is happening. We may also believe that they are minimizing their struggles for fear that they will be forced out of their home. Even if our parents live in senior’s community, assisted residence or full care facility, we still worry if they are getting all the care and attention they need.

There are some things we can do from a distance to increase our full understanding of their situation, to improve the communication we have with them, and to manage the risks inherent in long distance (and close distance) caregiving. All of these suggestions can be done via the internet and phone.

  1. Ask your parent to sign a consent to release information from all of their health care providers so that you can gather collateral information about their functioning. Get a list of the names and phone numbers of these individuals.
  2. Encourage your parent to complete a power of attorney at all of their financial institutions so you can monitor their management of money. Make sure to tell them that you do not plan on taking over; you just want to oversee to ensure they are not being taken advantage of by another and if they have questions, you can assist them.
  3. Encourage your parent to draft a Mandate/Living Will/Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care so you have the legal authority to make decisions and manage their finances if they become unable to do so.
  4. Ask your parent to list all of their utility providers, their mortgage carrier, car insurance, etc. and account numbers and to give these facilities authorization to share information with you so if they are confused about their accounts, you can assist them. (See our website for a complete list).
  5. Arrange for automatic bill pay where applicable.
  6. Ask your parents for the location of all important documents (power of attorney, birth certificate, deeds, etc.).
  7. Obtain LifeLine, Medic Alert, or another type of safety system so that your parent can access help if he/she falls or has another emergency.
  8. Obtain a list of individuals nearby who could stop by your parents’ home if you have an immediate concern (neighbor, friend, relative, etc.)
  9. Obtain a complete and updated list of all medications, prescribed and over-the-counter.
  10. During a visit to your parents, conduct a home safety assessment and make all necessary modifications to the home. (See our website for a complete list of areas to observe).
  11. Prepare a list of private and community agencies that are available to make visits to your parents for future or immediate reference.
  12. If your parent is at a facility, get the names, phone numbers, and emails of at least two professional staff members (nurse, social worker, etc.) and make contact with them periodically to foster an on-going relationship.
  13. If you can afford it, arrange for a monthly visit from a social worker or nurse to monitor your parents’ safety and report back to you. The money spent will be worth the peace of mind and may prevent major crises.
  14. Begin a journal of all of the above information, as well as on-going updates about your impressions of their functioning, including specific examples (i.e., my mom called me again to ask about her phone bill; I noticed she has lost weight since our last visit, etc.).
  15. Monitor the following when you visit: Physical appearance and hygiene, medication administration habits, ambulation risks and falls, home cleanliness and organization, food acquisition and preparation, driving, memory loss, ability to express thoughts, social interaction or isolation, judgment, decision-making, etc.)

For further information and more detailed toolkits that outline each of the above areas in more detail, please refer to our website. http://www.ericksonresource.com/estore/

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