Since the day I got married, I have lived far away from my parents, in distant states and across oceans. That’s just how life works out when you marry into the military. Really, many families are separated by great distances and adult children increasingly live far away from their parents. What do you do when you live far away from your elderly parents and they need your help more often?
Plane travel has been a regular part of my schedule the last few years. I try to visit my hometown at least once every month or two. I check on my parents and do what I can to insure groceries are bought and maybe some meals stocked in the freezer.
But, with our parents aging, the details of them living alone seem to be getting a little sticky. My siblings and I see declining mobility and diet issues hindering their wellbeing, though they don’t recognize the changes. As of now, the option of moving to a facility doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
So what do you do?
How do you care for an elderly parent who lives far from you?
(Get my free printable Essential Documents when Caring for Aging Parents at the bottom of this post. Just shoot me your email.)
After years of living this life, I’ve listed some responsibilities and ideas to consider if your loved ones are also miles from you, yet still living independently.
Have a family meeting to discuss honesty and openness in their health and finances.
Stress the importance of you knowing the details about their health and details about their lives. Losing their independence is difficult for some, but helping them to understand that their health now impacts you is of the utmost importance. Convey often your love for them and concern for their wellbeing.
Develop a relationship with their doctors.
HIPAA laws require the consent of a patient before a doctor discusses their medical records with another person. Talk to your parent about giving consent to medical providers so they can discuss your parent’s care with you. It’s much easier to do this when they are healthy than later in the event of a medical emergency.
This also goes for their medications. I learned, when my mom was ill in the hospital, that I needed to know exactly what medications she was taking, all the time. When a hospitalization occurred, her medications did not always show up in the hospital’s ‘system’. Get a list.
Keep abreast of safety issues in their home.
When you visit, are there repairs that need to be made that would cause a safety hazard? Do rugs or furniture need to be replaced or removed to prevent falls? What about the bath or shower? Are handles and safety mats adequate? Is there room for a walker to move through the house?
Set up an emergency communication system.
If your parent is living alone, think through what would happen if they fell (or something worse) and couldn’t get to a phone. Odds are, your mom or dad is not as technologically savvy as we are, and they probably will not have a cell phone ever at the ready for such events. Look into an alert system like this that they can easily wear and call for emergency help.
Help your parent with nutrition and diet choices.
I worry about this issue probably most of all. Our parents became young parents themselves at the same time as the rise of processed….everything. TV dinners were new and convenient back then. Sadly, processed frozen meals are not the best nutrition choices. But, for a parent is living alone, cooking for one person may be burdensome, not to mention difficult.
For an absent caregiver who lives far away, there’s a tradeoff here. We want them to eat. Freezer meals have come a long way nutritionally in years. And, I’d rather them eat a freezer meal than choose not to cook a meal for themselves. Help them make wise choices in the grocery store.
Other options exist like Meals On Wheels, or a similar local program, that brings a hot meal once a day for a small fee. Additionally, most grocery stores now offer home delivery or pick-up, which is a valuable perk to someone who isn’t as mobile as in years past. Even from another state, I would order groceries online with my mom on the phone and have them delivered right to their home.
Home cleaning and laundry may become increasingly difficult.
Ask neighbors for ideas of trusted cleaning services or light home care companies who may be flexible in the services they provide. Visiting Angels is one nationwide service that offers many options, including bathing if need be. Medicare may even provide financial reimbursement for some services, depending on the mobility impairment. Insurance companies use a scale to measure mobility to determine their compensation.
Click here for more helpful links to organizations that help with the aging population.
Have your parent’s insurance information on hand.
Finding this information buried somewhere in your parent’s home might prove difficult or impossible in the event of an emergency. It might even be helpful to keep it on a note in your phone.
Ask a trusted neighbor to keep a key to your parent’s house, just in case.
My parents have lived in the same house for decades. One of their neighbors has a key, and more than once I’ve asked her to check on them when I couldn’t contact them. It adds another layer of peace of mind when I sense there may be a problem. When I can’t get to them quickly, there is someone close who can.
Gradually become more involved in your parents’ financial life.
This goes along with the honesty issue above. Help them to understand that your knowledge of their finances doesn’t make them less independent. This is especially true if the parent is alone. Talk with a trusted financial expert to help you make decisions WITH your parent on smart ways to navigate their later years financially. This becomes increasingly important as their health declines and care facilities need consideration.
If your parent is living alone, decide what ‘the event’ might be that forces them to consider other living options.
Other than them deciding to move on their own, what ‘event’ would force their hand? An incapacitating fall? A heart attack? Decide what that is and agree upon it. Help them understand that their decisions affect everyone in the family, not just them.
My friends, we are all on this caregiving road together, making mistakes along the way. As I discover information that might be helpful to you, I will post it here, or provide it in my weekly email.
If I missed anything, please comment below! Please share with a friend who also needs this information!
Don’t forget to sign up for my free printable Essential Documents when Caring for Aging Parents just below….
Hi Della! Your suggestions are right on the mark! I have been helping care for my aging parents for 2+ years now, from more than 1,500 miles away. I especially like your suggestion to become increasingly involved in their medical situations. I now coordinate all medical and financial aspects for all three of my parents (mom, stepdad and dad). One tip that may also help is to ask care providers if you can sit in by phone if you aren’t able to make it in person. I do this quite frequently and most doctors are open to it, even if they haven’t done it previously. I usually have to use a parent’s cell phone, and have them check the reception to ensure that it works. I’ve met most of them in person since I visit 8-10 times per year. I find that the care team is thankful to have a family member assisting!
Elaine! Thank you! Yes to EVERYTHING you said! This is especially helpful for a parent who is hard of hearing. It’s so helpful to clarify what the docs are actually saying vs. what they are hearing. You are an amazing woman with everything you’re doing to take care of your loved ones! Thank you for offering this suggestion! I will go back and update the post! Is it ok to quote you? (Using your first name?)
I’m actually in the throws of this kind of planning right now. I’m at my mom’s home taking care of her now, but husband’s job will be relocating us in the next couple months. All these tips really help thank you!
Hi Shannah! It’s hard being far away, no doubt about it. There’s suddenly a role reversal that takes some adjustment. Just like new parents, we all learn as we go, right? I’m happy to help!
Kristin Cerasoli says
I’ve been thinking about this topic more and more lately so it’s very timely for me. My parents are actually still quite active, but I’d like to start the conversation about their future now.. I want them to know I’ll be there for them for anything they may need. Thank you for the information!
You’re very welcome Kristin!
Great information! I have noticed several of these concerns myself with my parents. Fortunately I live nearby so it is easier to help and keep an eye out. I can’t imagine trying to help from far away. Great tips for those that this is a fact of life. Often it isn’t easy to realize that things are slipping for the ones we love and especially from a distance.
Hi Jodi! It is so much easier when you can check in often! But I have also learned that when we go for a couple of months between visits, those changes are more obvious. BUT, it’s also harder to talk to them about those changes that we see more readily. Ugh. Sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope! Thank you for stopping by!
Fantastic information! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my parents far away. This is also great information when your parents live close by. My mom had been in and out of the hospital and on a lot of medication so it was so important to have that list (and it was long). The last thing you want is to let the hospital give medication that affects meds they’re already taking.
Yes that is true! I also learned when my mom was in the hospital from a head injury (from a fall) that even my dad didn’t know all that she was taking! And now we have neurological meds thrown into the mix and I”M the one making all those decision!!! It was a scary time!!