Caring for a Loved One from a Distance
Gerald was getting ready to take his 12-year-old son to his softball game when he got the call – a frantic older man was on the line telling him his father has just been taken to the hospital. The caller turned out to be a neighbor and was unable to provide much useful information. Gerald, who lived 2000 miles away, could do very little, but managed to get the name of the hospital. He called and was put on hold several times before he was able to ascertain his father’s health status.
It’s a scenario we all dread – and yet it’s one that is becoming more and more common. Today’s families are living farther apart from each other and when an emergency happens, it’s often difficult to determine the best course of action. Here are some tips to help guide you through this difficult time.
Collect important information before a crisis occurs
Sit down and have a discussion with your loved one. Compile a list a phone numbers of friends, neighbors, doctors, spiritual leaders and others who can help in an emergency. Get the names of all physicians your loved one sees on a regular basis and get a list of all medications they take. Know your loved one’s health insurance provider and their member number and contact information. Find out if your loved one has an Advance Directive or any other legal documents that specify the kind of medical they want – and don’t want – in the case they are unable to make that decision for themselves. Know who your loved one’s health care proxy or power of attorney for healthcare is, if it’s not you.
Create a Plan of Action
Once you’ve compiled all necessary information, it’s time to determine what your role – and the role of others – can and should be. Make sure the right people are involved in the plan – other family members, and professionals who can offer input. Remember that unless your loved one is completely incapacitated, he or she must be centrally involved in developing the plan. You are trying to help Mom or Dad take control of their life, not control it for them. Your goal is to support your family member’s maximum level of independence, self-esteem and dignity.
Visit as often as possible
Visiting in person in the best way to assess your loved one’s condition and what help they may need. When you go, make the visits as productive as possible – schedule medical appointments during a time when you’re there, so you can serve as an advocate for your loved one. Take a look around the house and see if there are any fall hazards, such as loose rugs, excessive clutter, missing handrails or poor lighting. Check the refrigerator to ensure they have enough food and are eating well. If they need food or other supplies, go out and buy them. See if they’re still socially active and spending time with friends.
Keep in touch in between visits
Even if you can’t be there in person 365 days a year, keeping in touch through other means will let your loved one know that you care and are available. It is also an opportunity to spot issues of concern and allow you to be more proactive in providing care. Here are some ways to keep in touch from a distance:
- Call often, and encourage your loved one to call you
- Set your loved one up with a simple email program if they aren’t already online
- Use a webcam or Skype for “virtual visits” – this can often reveal things that a regular phone call can’t
- Help your loved one create a Facebook page, or set up a family blog
Enlist the help of a professional
When you don’t live nearby, enlisting the help of a home health professional makes sense and is a great way to help ensure your loved ones are being properly taken care of, particularly if they are recuperating from surgery, accident or other medical event or have a chronic condition that needs medical monitoring. Our skilled team of nurses, rehabilitation therapists, medical social workers and home health aides will work with your loved one’s physician to create a plan of care and implement it and monitor your loved one’s progress.
Long-distance caregiving can be a challenge, but becomes much easier when you enlist the support of those experienced in dealing with the issues of aging. If you’d like to learn more about the services we provide, please contact us.