The holidays are past, the tree has been put away, and the resolutions have long been forgotten. But there is one thing you can’t forget and its been troubling you since you boarded the plane: your parent’s health.
Many adult children face this fact every year as they return home for the holidays only to discover their older parents simply can’t do everything on their own anymore. They need assistance. But how can you do it from afar? How can you manage work, a family, and everything that keeps you busy 24 hours of the day AND try and figure out this new caregiving role from hundreds of miles away?
While it may sound like an overwhelming, stressful, even impossible task, keep in mind that this scenario plays out all across the world every single year. You are not alone. Yet now that you’ve discovered there is a problem, its time to do something about it.
Across America, it is estimated that there are around 7 million people providing long distance care for their family and loved ones. Caregiving is complicated in the best of circumstances; distance adds a new realm to the issue. First realize that caregiving will come with many different aspects for you to deal with – emotional, physical and financial – and there are some things you’ll be able to do, and some things you’ll have to rely on help.
Who is in your community?
Your first task is to make sure mom and dad are safe. Do you have siblings that live near by? Do you have other close relatives, such as an aunt, uncle or cousin? Do your parents have close friends that can help out as needed? Put together a list of everyone that may be willing to help with a caregiving task. In some cases, the people on your list may already be doing their fair share. With a simple meeting, you can discuss your parent’s health and determine what resources are available and being used right now.
Can mom and dad move in with you?
Are your parents a part of their community, or own a home they’ve lived in for decades? Would they be willing to uproot and move to you? If you quickly realize you may be the primary caregiver, regardless of distance, the easiest choice would be to have them closer to you. But is that feasible? Could they move in with you? Could they move to a home nearby that would make your job easier? Make sure everyone is on board – your family and your parents – before you proceed as this can be a lot of responsibility to make the move happen.
Learn all you can
Visiting your parents a few times per year and talking on the phone every week doesn’t open up to some of the most important conversations you should have. Now that you’ll be in a new role, its important that you have all the facts. Who are their doctors? What medications are they on? What insurance do they have? What bank accounts do they have? What assets do they own? Its imperative that you know all the details of their lives, and have permission to access medical and financial accounts as appropriate. If things like wills and power of attorney haven’t been addresses before, now is the time.
Set up your finances and budgets as well
If you are responsible as your parents primary caregiver, you will be making trips back home on occasion to check in and deal with emergencies. Is your family structured in such a way that its possible? Make sure you sit down with your own family and budget in this new role. Not only may it mean occasional flights home, it can also mean taking leave from your job, which will further cut into your family budget. Are there ways your parents can help pay for this caregiving role? Or are there other opportunities to help fund your travel? In some cases your parents can get aid for caregiving – be sure to check with their insurance and with Medicare to see what they qualify for.
Choose the right caregiving services
While you can do a lot from a distance, there are certain things that can’t be done by phone. If your parents need day to day care, finding the appropriate caregiving services is crucial. There are many different kinds of care – everything from in home care to full medical help. Talk with people close to the situation – doctors, friends, neighbors, siblings, your parents – and determine what help is best for the situation. Don’t be afraid to hire different levels of help for different situations. A staff of caregivers can provide you with a check and balance system, and help give your parents everything they need.
Remember, even though this is a difficult time, the more you trust in others, the more resources you put at your disposal, the easier this process will be for all involved. Never be afraid to ask. Help is just a phone call, text, or click away.