Countless times each day, an adult child gets the phone call about his or her senior parent. There’s been a fall, a bout with shortness of breath, maybe a case of food poisoning.
For the adult child, such a call is naturally cause for concern or even fear. But for the adult child who no longer lives close to his parent – the long-distance caregiver – that call triggers a heightened sense of dread.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, one in four households – 29.2 million family caregivers – is involved in elder care today, a surge of more than 300 percent since 1987. Nearly 34 million people in the United States provide or manage care for someone age 50 or older, with 15 percent of them living more than an hour away.
Long-distance caregiving takes many forms, including money management and advising parents on everything from insurance benefits to medical equipment.
In spite of the physical separation between adult child and senior parent, there are ways to address the challenges that distance creates.
Stay in touch
Today, the key modes of connectivity are the telephone and the Internet. In the first six months of 2012, more than one of every three households (35.8 percent) did not have a landline telephone but did have at least one wireless telephone, says the National Health Institute Survey. And thanks to Internet-based computer applications like Skype, families can see and talk with each other in real time. In 2013, Skype reported that its users spent more than 2 billion minutes connecting with each other on a single day.
Visit your parent whenever possible
Though it can be difficult to arrange, a face-to-face visit is the optimal way for an adult child to assess the health and well-being of his or her senior parent. It’s also a great opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, whether you’re gathered around the Sunday dinner table or spending a day at a theme park.
Assemble contacts who can keep you informed
“So Far Away: 20 Questions for Long-Distance Caregivers,” published by the National Institute on Aging offers this advice: “Seek out help from people in the community: the next door neighbor, an old friend, the doctor. Call them. Tell them what is going on. Make sure they know how to reach you.”
Relocate your parent
Despite your best efforts to be an effective long-distance caregiver, you may feel your parent would be better off living nearby. If such a move is financially feasible – and if the parent is agreeable – it may be time to make a change.
Attending to a senior parent can be a challenging responsibility. For the adult child whose parent lives in a different city or state, the degree of responsibility is magnified. Although there is physical distance between you and your parent, you can provide care.