It can seem like an overwhelming and impossible task when you want and need to help your aging parents from afar. But, there are several strategies and concrete ways you can help. Families increasingly live at a distance from one another as children, jobs, and other life changes prompt moves that often are too far to drive.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Talk to Your Parents About Helping Them From a Distance
- Ways You Can Support Aging Parents From Far Away
- Resources or Services You Can Use to Help Aging Parents From a Distance
You might have a sibling or one or two other family members that live near your aging parents, or you may not have anyone close to your aging parents at all. How you coordinate, communicate and meet your parent’s needs depends to some extent on where they are in their aging process.
Putting some support in place early or at least talking about handling a health crisis if and when it occurs can be a big help. You can be a good long-distance caregiver, and we will show you how.
How to Talk to Your Parents About Helping Them From a Distance
Your parents need help. You may find this out in several different ways. Either they tell you they need your help, or you find out from someone else. For example, perhaps a neighbor notices your parents aren’t coming outside anymore, or the lawn isn’t cared for. Or, your parents don’t want your help even though you know they need it.
Perhaps another family member visited and reports to you that they have concerns about your parents’ ability to function. There are ways you can talk to your parents about helping them from a distance.
1. Schedule frequent phone contact
Start by calling often. The more you call, the more likely you are to establish a two-way communication based on trust and understanding. If you haven’t been in contact in a while, suddenly calling could be awkward and uncomfortable. When you reach out regularly, you will get more reliable information. Plus, your parents will be more likely to tell you the truth about how they are doing.
2. Find out what your parents need help with
Finding out what your parents need help with could be tricky. They could be reluctant to tell you or minimize their deficits. Ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what you are having for dinner tonight,” rather than a yes-or-no question such as, “Are you getting enough to eat?”
Listen for clues; for example, your dad might comment on how hard it is to mow the lawn these days. Use these comments as an opening to discuss how you can set up services for your parents from afar.
3. Be reassuring
When aging parents begin to need help, their anxiety levels can increase. They may feel helpless. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to support them from far away. Lay out your plan and check-in to ensure that the services you have put in place are running smoothly.
If your parents have complaints take those seriously and problem-solve any issues. By continuing to be actively involved you will establish the fact that you support your parents throughout the process.
Ways You Can Support Aging Parents From Far Away
You can support your aging parents from far away by coming up with a plan. Here are some ways you can support an aging parent, no matter how far away you are.
4. Help create an advance directive
Advance directives can allow you to access medical records and speak with your parent’s healthcare providers. If you haven’t made arrangements to get those documents in place, then talk with an elder law or estate planning attorney who can help you and your elderly parents complete these documents.
Having the legal authority to advocate on your parent’s behalf is critically important, especially when you live far away.
5. Offer to take care of specific tasks
Whatever tasks your parents have in mind, you can probably make arrangements to take care of them from afar. Offer to help with lawn care, housekeeping, personal care needs, home maintenance, or making doctor’s appointments. You can even call your parents doctors with questions they might have or gain proxy access to their online medical chart to communicate with providers. You can set up medication and meal delivery.
6. Enlist the help of other family members
Other family members can help whether they are on-site or not. Often one family member becomes the primary point of contact, which is normal, but if you are that person, it could place too much pressure on you.
Reach out to a sibling or adult child to help. Even weekly phone calls from other people are beneficial. An added bonus might be getting additional information from others about what is really going on.
7. Do research on activities and resources
Aging parents sometimes struggle with finding activities or resources online. You can help by researching for them. Compile the information and call or send an email with easy-to-click links to resources.
8. When your parent asks for too much help
The opposite problem of getting your parents to let you know what they need help with is when your aging parents are demanding. The best solution to this problem is to prioritize requests. Some of what your parents ask you to do can be accomplished by others or aren’t urgent. Once you have a list of important tasks, find local resources to assist you with those. Remind your parents that you live at a distance, and accomplishing some of the hands-on tasks they require will take other people.
Resources or Services You Can Use to Help Aging Parents From a Distance
Using resources to help aging parents from a distance is a valuable way to be the eyes and ears of care when you can’t be there. Your parents might need some of these services now, and others are for the future. Educating yourself about what is available in their community ensures you can help at a moment’s notice.
9. Hire a geriatric care manager
A geriatric care manager is a professional social worker or nurse with experience in the eldercare field. A care manager can do a complete in-home assessment looking at-home safety, care needs, and costs associated with care. A geriatric care manager is flexible, so they can visit weekly or as often as needed and report to you and the rest of the family. Their services are generally private pay.
10. Consider in-home care
Caregivers hired through an agency can come to your parent’s home as little or often as they need. Your parents might resist this idea, so starting with just a few hours a week might be a good place to begin. A professional caregiver can help with activities of daily living, cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, and companionship. They can report on problems in the home and any changes in physical and mental condition.
11. Arrange for transportation
If your parents are no longer driving or driving limited distances, arrange for senior transportation. Having easy access to reliable transportation can allow your parents to feel that they have the freedom to continue to access activities and go places on their own.
Many senior transportation options require pre-scheduling and don’t allow for much flexibility except for GoGoGrandparent. Many senior transportation services will only transport to medical appointments. An in-home caregiver can also provide transportation and part of their service allows for your parents to decide when and where they want to go.
12. Contact a senior care placement professional
If there is talk in your family and with your parents about the possibility of a senior living community, reach out to a local senior care placement professional who will meet personally with your parents and arrange tours of senior living communities. Sometimes a professional in the industry might be more comfortable for your parents to talk to.
13. Call aging services
Most communities have a local aging services program. These programs administer Meals On Wheels, senior centers, senior volunteers, respite services, and senior transportation. Some aging services programs have income qualifications, but whether your parent meets those requirements or not, aging services are a great resource for aging adults.
14. Mobile medical groups
A growing trend in senior living is the use of mobile medical groups. When you live afar, it can be a challenge to get your parents to a medical appointment. If they are in independent or assisted living, ask about mobile medical groups that the community contracts with.
If you and your parents decide this is a good option, they will have to give up their outside primary care physician. But many aging parents find mobile medical groups to be professional, thorough, and responsive. And they don’t have to leave their community, since the providers come to them.
15. Home health
You may not think of home health as a support, but it can be invaluable in giving your parents assistance following an accident or general decline. Your parents will have to meet qualifying criteria, and the services are time-limited, but physical therapy, aides, and nursing care can give you valuable information about your parent’s condition and prognosis for future care.
16. Consider tech solutions
The technology sector is constantly developing new systems for senior support. There are sophisticated medication dispensing and reminder systems, remote fall alert options, devices that turn on and off lights, etc.
17. Grocery and meal delivery services
If your parents struggle to buy groceries and cook meals, there are several meal or grocery delivery services available. Walmart, Whole Foods, Instacart, Shipt, Target, Kroger, Safeway, and FreshDirect are just a few. So, if your parents still want to cook, they can. If they want meals delivered that just need heating, there are numerous choices for that as well.
How to Help Aging Parents From Afar
Being at a distance from aging parents can make you feel helpless but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can follow our suggestions and continue to be involved, supportive, and engaged in your aging parent’s life and care.