Signs That a Long-Distance Caregiver May Need to Visit More Often

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What is a long-distance caregiver?

A long-distance caregiver is someone who offers support to a loved one living an hour or more away.[01] Long-distance caregivers usually aren’t their loved one’s primary caregivers, but they do provide necessary support — even from afar. Usually they’re an adult child who helps coordinate their aging parent’s care and well-being from a different city or state. While they may not provide the daily support of a primary caregiver, long distance caregivers play a vital role in keeping their loved one safe, healthy, and happy.

Long-distance caregivers are typically responsible for these tasks:

  • Coordinating personal and medical care
  • Offering emotional support
  • Keeping their aging parent’s affairs in order
  • Determining when their loved one needs more help

3 tips for long-distance caregivers

Vicky Demirozu, the founder of Giving Care with Grace, simplifies the role of a long-distance caregiver into three tips: Consistently communicate with aging loved ones, coordinate a loved one’s care, and help organize an aging parent’s medical and financial affairs.

 

Communicate regularly and consistently

There are many good reasons to communicate consistently and regularly with an aging parent. Senior loneliness is a risk factor for mortality, and a weekly call can be a huge boon to your loved one’s mental health.[02] Regular communication is also the best way to understand your loved one’s other needs.

Here are some tips for communicating with an aging parent long distance:

  • Call at a consistent time every day or week. “If you and your mom have been talking on the phone at 5 p.m. every Wednesday for two months, and she doesn’t pick up one day, that’s a sign that something may be wrong,” explains Demirozu.
  • Make sure your loved one knows how to use their phone, tablet, or computer.
  • Consider installing a monitoring device in their home to check in on them during an emergency.
  • Take your parent’s schedule into account when deciding when to call. For example, if they like to sleep in, call later in the day when they’re more alert.
  • Make sure you and a local contact are both listed as the emergency contacts in your loved one’s phone.

Consider asking your aging parent these questions at least every three days:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Have you been taking your medications?
  • Have you gone out recently? What was it like?
  • What did you eat yesterday?
  • Do you need help with anything?
  • How are the caregivers?
  • What can I do to support you?

 

Coordinate their care

Coordinating a loved one’s care means hiring and managing in-home caregivers, housekeepers, and other support people. While your loved one may not have personal caregivers in their home, they likely have other people in their lives, such as local friends and neighbors, who are willing and able to help.

Demirozu suggests taking these steps when coordinating your loved one’s care:

  • Make sure that there’s at least one person in town, preferably someone who lives close to your loved one, who can check in on your aging parent when you can’t.
  • Regularly talk with their caregivers, at least once a week. Their caregivers can give you a fuller picture of how your loved one is doing and if any changes need to be made.
  • Create a spreadsheet or shared calendar with updated information about who’s providing care and when, even if it just means coordinating social drop-ins from a friendly neighbor.

Coordinating care long-distance can be an organizational challenge, so consider using a family caregiver app.

 

Organize medical and financial affairs

It’s vital to make sure your parent’s affairs are in order before an emergency situation occurs. You should do the following as soon as possible with an aging parent — and thankfully, you can do most of these over the phone, although some, such as creating a will, may merit an in-person visit.

  • Help your aging parent create a living will.
  • Create and update a list of all of your loved one’s medications and past procedures to keep in a visible place in their home to use in case of an emergency. See if you can be added to the login information for your loved one’s medical portal to help keep track of medications and visits.
  • If there’s no spouse, pick an adult child or the closest relative to be your aging parent’s medical power of attorney.
  • Discuss your aging parent’s financial situation with them. This will help you understand if they need help and help everyone plan for your aging parent’s future needs.

3 warning signs that a long-distance caregiver should visit more often

Long-distance adult children should look for signs that their aging parent needs more help or attention by regularly assessing their parent’s physical appearance, cognition, and daily routines.

“Some seniors generationally were raised in a time when they don’t complain as much,” Demirozu explains. “ Sometimes things happen very rapidly, and they can have very serious situations going on, but [your aging parents] aren’t either willing or able to communicate it until it becomes a crisis.” This is especially true when seniors and adult children talk primarily over the phone, according to Demirozu.

Look for these signs to help you determine if your loved one needs you to visit more often, or if it’s time to consider assisted living or memory care.

 

Physical signs

Long-distance caregivers should look for signs of injury, declining health, and poor hygiene when video-calling or visiting their loved one. Any of these signs could mean that your loved one is unable to physically care for themselves and needs more help.

  • A disheveled look, particularly if their appearance is usually very neat
  • A strong smell
  • Bruises, cuts, or other injuries
  • Wearing the same clothes for multiple days

 

Cognitive signs

Cognitive changes in a loved one may point to memory loss, but these may also indicate depression or a urinary tract infection or a medication change. Take note of all these changes in cognitive ability:

  • Signs of depression or anxiety
  • Frequent repetition in the same conversation
  • Food in the fridge that’s past the due date or moldy
  • A pet being either too fat or too skinny
  • A marked shift in personality

Be sure to rule out other possibilities before assuming that your parent is experiencing memory loss.

 

Routine signs

Even over the phone, you should look for changes in your loved one’s routine. Many of these changes could mean a decline in health, memory, or emotional well-being:

  • Missing events, such as flights or appointments
  • A stack of unopened mail or an unusually messy home in the background of a video chat
  • A sudden stop in normal activities, such as going to the beautician
  • Missed bills
  • Missing a regularly scheduled call or video chat

In general, don’t wait more than 24 hours to have a local friend or an emergency service check in on your aging parent if they haven’t responded to your calls.

 

What to do when a senior loved one needs more help

“Peace of mind is hugely important for long-distance caregivers specifically,” Demirozu says.

If you begin to sense that your loved one needs more attention or help than you can give from afar, consider taking the following steps:

  • Visit or call more frequently, if possible.
  • Hire in-home care through an agency, if you’re not already doing so.
  • Hire a geriatric care manager to help determine if your loved one’s needs merit assisted living or memory care.
  • Begin to look at senior care options.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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