Long-distance Caregiving: 14 Tips for Caring for a Parent in a Different State
Becoming a caregiver to an aging or ill parent can seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you’re out of state.
But there are two things you should keep in mind about long-distance caregiving:
- You’re not alone. Millions of Americans are now long-distance caregivers, and most of them do it from more than an hour away. Plus, there are a lot of people in your parent’s community who can help you.
- By being a long-distance caregiver you’re doing one of the most admirable, selfless things you can do for a another person. Remember that. It can help get you through difficult times.
All that being said, the No. 1 question on long-distance caregivers’ minds is … Where do I start?
The answer to that will likely depend on your parent’s physical and mental health, but here’s a guide to help get your feet under you and create a long-distance caregiving plan. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a good place to start.
1. Reach out to the neighborhood
Since you can’t be there on a daily basis to see how your parent is doing, reach out to those who can be your daily eyes and ears — a neighbor, a local doctor or a friend. Tell them what’s going on, and make sure you know how to reach each other.
2. Put together a list of medications
Find out what medications your parent is taking — both prescription and over-the-counter — and make a list of them. Type it up (so it’s legible), and make sure not only you have a copy, but also extra copies are handy to provide to physicians and emergency personnel.
3. Inspect the house
Look around your parent’s house to make sure there are no hazards. Some things to look for:
- Trip hazards like clutter, extension cords, loose carpets or rugs that are sticking up.
- Poor lighting.
- Slick bathroom floors.
- Loose handrails or floorboards on staircases.
- Faulty smoke detectors/carbon monoxide alarms.
- Insecure door locks.
- A bed that is difficult to get in and out of.
Consider staying at the home for a weekend to observe how your parent moves throughout the home. Ask yourself questions like:
- Where do they struggle the most?
- Is there a way to alleviate that struggle?
It’s also a good idea to install motion-operated lights in dark areas inside and outside the home both for visibility and security purposes.
4. Create a list of emergency contact numbers
Type up a list of emergency contact numbers.
Numbers that should be included on the list:
- Emergency services: 911, police, fire and poison control departments.
- Family members.
- Miscellaneous services: Water, electric and gas companies, a plumber and a handyman.
- Bank/financial institution.
5. Get them a reliable phone
Does your parent have a reliable, accessible phone? This is critical when long-distance caregiving because you want to have a way to get in touch with your parent, and you want them to be able to contact you.
If possible, get your parent a cell phone, enter all of the emergency contact information above and make sure they know how to use it.
6. Make sure you, or a loved one, has access to medical/financial info
Talk to your parent’s doctors and financial institutions, and find out what it takes to receive information from them. It’s likely you’ll have to fill out a few forms (and have your parent sign off on them), but having access to this information can be vital — especially if your parent experiences a medical or financial hardship.
7. Plan visits
Before you arrive at your parent’s home, contact them to find out if there’s anything that needs to be done or anywhere they need to go. This can help you plan your visit so you can take care of everything your parent needs to stay happy and healthy.
Some questions to ask before visiting:
- Do you need to go to the doctor?
- Do you need any medication?
- Do you need to go to the store?
- Do you need to go to the bank?
- Does anything need to be fixed around the house?
- Do you need to get your car serviced?
8. Spread out the responsibilities where possible
When coming up with a caregiving plan, reach out to family and friends to find out what (if anything) they’re willing and capable of doing.
Then, find someone who can physically check in on your parent in case you lose contact with them — or in case you’ll be unreachable for a period of time.
9. Spend quality/bonding time with your parent
Try to avoid having your visits with your parent be all business. Strive to do things that aren’t related to your caregiving responsibilities. Engage in conversations about mutual interests, or — better yet — get them to do something with you.
Does your parent like to cook? Have them show you how to prepare a favorite recipe. This can make them feel important. It’s not uncommon for aging parents to feel like burdens on their caretakers, which can lead to depression. Activities like this can help prevent that kind of detrimental thinking.
10. Find ways to keep them active
Help your parent lead a full, active life. Find ways to get them out of the house and interacting with others. Community organizations, churches and eldercare groups may be able to arrange trips and social gatherings.
Is there a friend or a neighbor who’d be willing to take them out to lunch or just go for a walk?
11. Gather critical documents
One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is gathering and organizing a parent’s financial and medical documents.
Here’s a list of what you may want to gather:
- Sources of income: Pension, 401(k), IRA, investment and banking info.
- Insurance information: Medical insurance, life insurance, long-term care insurance, home insurance, auto insurance and Medicare and/or Medicaid info.
- Bills: Mortgage, medical, credit card, auto loan, personal loan and utility info.
- Recent tax returns.
- Planning documents: A living will, a power of attorney and/or an advance directive.
12. Talk about planning for the future
If your parent doesn’t have a will, power of attorney, advance directive or an estate plan, it may be time to talk to them about preparing for the future.
If you’re afraid they’ll get upset, stress to them that you are simply trying to make sure their wishes come to fruition in the event of an emergency — and in order to do that you may need the help of certain legal documents.
If they’re unwilling to talk to you, ask if they’d be willing to speak with an attorney or a close friend.
It can also be helpful to emphasize that you’re willing to abide by their wishes should they want to keep certain information private.
13. Keep an eye on the little things
Whenever you visit your parent, it’s also wise to ask yourself questions like these:
- Are they taking their medications on time?
- Is there food in the house?
- Can they still cook for him/herself?
- Are the bills being paid?
- Is the home getting cleaned?
- Do they seem depressed … anxious?
14. When the time is right, seek other help
If the task of long-distance caregiving starts to become too overwhelming, or if you experience an event that you feel you can’t handle on your own, don’t be afraid to seek help outside of your circle of family and friends.
There are professionals available who can be advocates for you and your loved ones. For example, the care management professionals at Intervention Associates can coordinate and provide a host of in-home, legal and guardianship services to support long-term caregivers.