Question: How can I handle caregiving when my parents live in another state?
Answer: First you need to go to where your parents live and do a little advance work. It’s sort of like advance teams for political candidates. It’s their job to scope out out the town, know the hot button issues of the locals, get everybody’s name right, know who to invite and brief the candidate. They can really make or break an event. Think of this as a campaign to help your parents make it on their own. They’re the candidates and you’re the advance team. Here are some pointers:
Get to know the neighbors. You’d be surprised at how much neighbors do for each other. On your next visit, go over to the neighbors and give them your contact information and ask for their phone number. If you’re lucky, these are folks who knew you when you were growing up, but chances are, either the neighbors or your parents have moved. Ask the neighbors to check in with you if they become concerned about your parents, especially if they live alone. Stay in touch with those neighbors, even if it’s just a matter of sending them cards on the holidays.
Get to know the mail carrier. Now here’s someone who probably knows more about you parent’s routine than you do. Getting the mail for many older people is the highlight of the day, and they wait for a quick chat along with their mail. If Mom’s not there, it’s her mail carrier who will pick up the warning signs and take action. If you’d like the mail carrier to pay a little extra attention to your parents, contact their local post office and let them know you’d like them to keep an eye out for your folks.
Get to know the bankers. It’s probably a good thing that many parents are a part of a generation that hasn’t taken too fondly to automatic teller machines. An ATM sure won’t give you a call that Mom just took out a large sum of money or that a stranger has been accompanying Dad to the bank. Introduce yourself to the bank manager and ask him or her to alert you of any concerns.
Get a phone schedule going with your siblings. A friend of mine happened upon an idea to keep with his Mom who lives several hours away. he noticed that when he talked to her on Sundays, she’d often just heard from his sister and brother too. Rather than get a triple-dose of her kids in one day, he thought it would make more sense if each of his siblings agreed to call on separate days throughout the week. Now their Mom gets a call just about everyday from one of them, which is more fun for her, as well as providing a frequent check-up on how well she’s doing.
Get to know your parent’s best friends. Your parent’s friends can let you know if something’s up and that, perhaps, you should look in on your parents. My mother lives in Phoenix and I’ve gotten to know her buddies pretty well. We’ve shared phone numbers, and I try to stop and say hello when I’m out there. One time I called one of them to look in on my Mom when she had the flu. My Mom didn’t want to bother anyone, but I knew she needed someone to get her medicine and good, old chicken soup. Friends are your best eyes and ears, and they’ll likely have your parent’s best interests at heart. Take the time to nurture your relationship with your parent’s friends.
Get to know the home health services network. Be sure to scope out the home health services and non-medical senior care agencies in your parents’ community, so that if you need them, you can spring into action. This can buy some time, just in case you can’t get there right away. You’ll want to explore the levels of care they provide, the costs, and what is covered under the circumstances. Find out if they can send a nurse to assess your parent’s situation and let you know if more medical attention is needed. This could be especially helpful if you think your Dad has more than a regular case of the flu or you’re worried that his diabetes has gotten worse.
Get to know the Area Agency on Aging. Get to know the staff at the local Area Agency on Aging. They can help you track down a host of human services for your parents. To find the agency in your area, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or go to www.eldercare.gov. If you prefer to call, then the next time you’re visiting your parents, bring back an extra copy of the local phone book. You’ll find the yellow and blue pages of the government and social agencies especially helpful. If you’re online, you can always check out www.yellowpages.com.
Information provided by Dr. Linda Rhodes, Finding Your Way, 250 Real Life Questions and Commonsense Answers http://lindarhodescaregiving.com/index.htm