Caring From Afar

My Mom lived in Little Rock, Arkansas; I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and my only sibling lives in Richmond, Virginia. Mom’s health began slowly deteriorating. Each visit, I noticed she was doing less and she began having falls. She wanted me and my sister, DeAnn, to think she was okay. When we visited, she made a great effort to show us she was taking care of herself. DeAnn had the foresight to get Mom to sign a Power of Attorney, get Life Alert and talked to her about selling her house.

After one particularly bad fall, Mom’s friends let us know exactlywhat was going on with her. They had been doing the caregiving and couldn’t take care of her and themselves anymore. I found a realtor who had been through a similar situation with her Mom. A personal support service agency put us in touch with a housing referral service geared toward seniors. They gave us options for Mom, plus emotional support. We got Mom to agree to sell her house and move to a retirement center near me in Nashville.

DeAnn and I spent a week with Mom sorting through 50+ years worth of stuff. We laughed and cried. It was very bittersweet. Mom’s not been happy about the move. It’s not been easy on any of us. But it was the best decision for all of us. We know for certain that Mom is safe and getting the care she needs. -Terri Humel

The logistical hurdles of coordinating someone’s care from afar (with all the phone calls and visits home) can be incredibly time-consuming. It can also affect work performance. The initial process of planning and organizing is the same as in any caregiving situation and is vitally important.

Long distance caregivers face more than just the inconvenience and high price of traveling to and from their senior’s home. Perhaps the biggest obstacle long distance caregivers must overcome is the guilt of not being there all the time. When you are able to make a visit, find ways to make each visit rich and meaningful, perhaps by connecting with old friends and family members.

Not all long distance caregivers can drop everything and move. It is essential to establish a nearby support network for the older adult-whether it’s composed of relatives, friends, neighbors, or even hired persons. Most areas also have websites that are helpful. Look for Area Agencies on Aging, disease support agencies (e.g., Alzheimer’s or Diabetes Associations), or free online referral services with access to professionals who can assist with assessments and resources. There are services that provide supervision when family members are not around. The Aging Life Care Association has members in many communities. Visit www.aginglifecare.org to learn more. 

For assistance in arranging a move, Senior Move Managers can do much of the hands-on work for a fee. These professionals can prepare a house or sale, pack up furnishings, help the older adult determine what to give away or sell, and fully set up the new home.

When you visit your loved one, ask him/her or ask friends in the community about resources known to be good and reliable. Area hospitals or your loved one’s local physicians may also be good resources. If applicable, make contact with the place where they worship, and be sure the congregation members know how to reach you. Ask about support ministries and activities available there. Identify three resources of support in their community and have the contact numbers/addresses. Be sure the support resources have your contact information and can easily reach you. Maintain and nurture these associations in an open and honest way that is not patronizing or humiliating to the older adult.

Talk to your employer or Human Resource Department. Caring for older adult relatives is becoming more widespread. You may be surprised at some resources available and/or the flexibility that your company may offer you.

If there is a good support system of friends and neighbors and no serious health problems, it is advisable for an older adult to stay where he/she has been living. When serious health problems develop, the need for a facility near family members may be needed. This enables the family to visit and to more readily supervise care.