1. Know what you need to know.
Experienced caregivers recommend that you learn as much as you can about your mom or dad’s (or both) illness, medicines, and resources that might be available.
- Information can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist in healthcare management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier.
- Make sure at least one family member has written permission to receive medical and financial information. To the extent possible, one family member should be the one to talk with all healthcare providers.
- Try putting together a notebook, on paper or online, that includes all the vital information about medical care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues, and so on.
- Make copies for other caregivers, and keep it up-to-date. Or provide it to your caregiving network by saving it “in the cloud” through Google docs, or other online storage service such as Dropbox.
2. Plan your visits.
When visiting your parent or parents, you may find that there is just too much to do in the time that you have. You can get more done and feel less stressed by planning ahead.
- Talk to your parent and find out what he or she would like to do.
- Check with the primary caregiver, if appropriate, to learn what he or she needs, such as handling some caregiving responsibilities while you are in town.
- Does your mother need to get some new winter clothes or visit another family member?
- Could your father use help fixing things around the house?
- Would you like to talk to your mother’s physician?
- Decide on the priorities and leave other tasks to another visit.
3. Spend some quality time.
Try to make time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver.
- Rent a movie to watch with your parents, or plan a visit with old family friends or other family members.
- Perhaps they would like to attend church.
- Offer to play a game of cards or a board game.
- Take a drive, or go to the library together.
- Take your mom or dad (or both) to dinner at one of their favorite places.
- Take you Dad to a baseball game.
Finding a little bit of time to do something simple and relaxing can help everyone, and it builds more family memories. Keep in mind that your parents are the focus of your trip—try to let outside distractions wait until you are home again.
4. Get in touch, stay in touch.
Many families schedule conference calls with doctors, the assisted living facility team, or nursing home staff so several relatives can participate in one conversation and get up-to-date information about a parent’s health and progress. FreeConferenceCall.com, Google Voice, and InstantConference, are three free services you can use for this. GroupMe is smartphone app for free group messaging.
- If your parent is in a nursing home, you can request occasional teleconferences with the staff.
- Sometimes a social worker is good to talk to for updates as well as help in making decisions.
- If you use Unfrazzle you can set up regular conference calls with your Unfrazzle network.
- Unfrazzle users can also set up a shared caregiver bulletin board.
- Try to find people in the community who can provide a realistic view of what is going on. In some cases, this will be your other parent.
- Don’t underestimate the value of a phone and email contact list. It is a simple way to keep everyone updated on your parents’ needs. Once again this list could be shared in the cloud through Google Docs or DropBox.
5. Help your parents stay in contact.
The simple strategies below can be a lifeline. But be prepared—you may find you are inundated with calls from your parent. It’s good to think in advance about a workable approach for coping with numerous calls.
- For one family, having a private phone line installed in their father’s nursing home room allowed him to stay in touch.
- For another family, giving grandma a cell phone (and then teaching her how to use it) gave everyone some peace of mind.
- You can program telephone numbers (such as those for the doctors, friends, and yourself) into the phone for speed dialing contacts.
- If your parents have a computer you can get them a Skype account or teach them how to use Apple’s FaceTime.
6. Learn more about caregiving.
Whether you are the primary caregiver or a long-distance caregiver, getting some caregiving training can be very helpful. As with a lot of things in life, many of us don’t automatically have a lot of caregiver skills.
- Training, for example, can teach you how to safely move someone from a bed to a chair, how to help someone bathe, how to prevent and treat bed sores, as well as basic first aid.
- You can find information about training opportunities in your area online.
- Some local chapters of the American Red Cross might offer courses, as do some non-profit organizations focused on caregiving.
- Medicare and Medicaid will sometimes pay for this training.
- The U.S. Government maintains a massive database of community services and programs called the Eldercare Locator.
7. Gather a list of resources in your parent’s neighborhood.
- Searching the internet is a good way to start collecting resources.
- Having a copy of the phone book for your parent’s city or town can also be really useful.
- The “Blue Pages” provide an easy guide to state and local services.
- Also check with local senior centers for lists of sources of help.
- The National Institute on Aging’s website, , offers an online list of more than 300 national health and aging organizations, including contact information.
Editor’s note: This post based on The National Institute on Aging’s brochure, So Far Away: 20 Questions and Answers on Long-Distance Caregiving
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