Long Distance Care for Aging Parents
On the other end of the phone was the care manager for the doctor’s office. We were talking about how, as children of aging parents who live in a different state, we are frequently ill-equipped to manage and juggle the details that would make our parents more comfortable and safe in their own homes to ensure the promise of independent living as long as possible.
It’s a tough thing to promise. But families do. And children, or children of choice, or friends when there is no one else, rally to be as present as one can be, sometimes while living on the other side of the country.
This wise care manager, who cared for her aging parents who are now dead, helped me to create the Top 10 Tips for "Baby Boomers Caring for Their Long Distance Aging Parents Who Live Independently at Home
10. Know the name of your parent’s physician, and phone number. When you visit, ask to get a check up while you’re there. Check out the dentist and optician too.
9. Watch for decline during your visit. Has mobility changed? Has forgetfulness increased?
8. Have your name on utility bills. Sharon, the case manager, found this out the hard way. The utilities were about to be cut off because her parents had not been paying the bills. It was a huge wake up to their decline. "You can pay bills and find out the balance, and see if the bills are current, when your name is on the accounts."
7. Watch your parent grocery shop. Are they vulnerable? Do they get exhausted? Do they need more help to unpack and put away. Develop a plan when they no longer can shop, ahead of the need. Can food be delivered? Are there younger neighbors that can help? Or who can check in with your parents once a week? Is there someone who your parent can check in with every day, by a certain time? This is especially important for elders living alone.
6. Advanced directives! Advanced directives! Advanced directives! Start having these important end of life conversations now! Even while your parents are active. Maybe your family tradition is not to talk about dying, but you can change it! If you don’t ask your parents what they want, or don’t want at the end of their life, you cannot honor their wishes. This includes creation or burial, a memorial service or not, filling out the Five Wishes, and whatever you and your parents add to the conversation.
5. When and if you visit, offer mending, repairing, or hemming clothing, or whatever skills you have. Replace batteries in the remote. Make sure there are light bulbs at the ready. Where are the emergency candles? Have flashlights fully loaded. In an emergency, and the electricity is off, have you and your parents created an emergency plan?
4. Check for expired food in the cupboards! And throw away frozen food that is more than a year old!
3. Be a loud voice, ask questions, get clarification at all medical appointments.
2. Pets. If your parent has a pet, who will care for the pet when your parent no longer can? Pets are the lifeline for our parents, but have a plan now about who will take care of the beloved dog or cat. Do you know the name of your parent’s vet?
Lastly, trust the professionals. Yes, you know your parent better than anyone else and you want to honor their wishes. But professionals know best about issues that children don’t, like observing safety concerns, knowing the signs of aging, and understanding the emotional capacity of elders living in their homes alone. Rely on those professionals when the going gets tough. I remember needing to remind long distance adult children of hospice patients that they can call the hospice team for changes in condition reports, or the details of visits. Seriously, they are there to help you too.
These are important, necessary, and good conversations to have. The invitation is to start today. Pick up the phone and check in.
Blessings in this sacred work.