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Caregiving Across the Miles

You did it! You grew up, became successful, started a family of your own and moved out. You might even live states away from your parents. You visit from time to time, and you keep in touch by talking on the phone and emailing pictures of grandchildren on a regular basis.

However, as your parents grow older, a realization could hit home: They might require more help than they used to in terms of both physical and emotional support. If you live far away, it can be very hard to provide the type of support and care they need. Not only is this frustrating for you, it can become frightening for your loved one.

If you are attempting to care for a loved one from afar, rest assured you are not alone. We recognize this challenge exists in many families and have devised a simple, yet important, list of ways to make caregiving from afar as easy as possible.

  • Communicate. Realize that your parents may not want to worry you with their problems or health issues. Discuss this with them and help them understand how important it is that they be completely open and honest with you about their lives. Also, call them often. You do not need to discuss important issues with them every time. Just call to chat and keep each other in the loop of your daily lives. Talking often about day-to-day events fosters a closeness that you will treasure and also makes it easier to discuss critical matters as they arise.
  • Ask for help. Taking care of aging parents from thousands of miles away may require assistance. In-home caregivers can assist with grocery shopping, meal preparation, housekeeping and transportation to the doctor's office. They can also provide company and companionship when you can't be there.
  • Keep track of their specifics. It is important for you to know certain things about your parents. For example, social security numbers, doctor's name, attorney's name and any other important information. Knowing their dates and places of birth, creditors, assets and investments can help you navigate numerous matters that may arise, especially if they become victims of fraud. This information is also essential for you to know if you end up having to help your parents manage money.
  • Make friends with your parents' friends. Doing so allows you to feel comfortable picking up the phone to contact them in case of an emergency or just to check to see how your parents are faring from another person's perspective.
  • Introduce yourself to health care providers. It can make a difference for these professionals to know your parents have strong family support and involvement, especially if you live far away. Make sure your parents list you as a person allowed to discuss their health issues. Even if a local family member or friend is the initial emergency contact, you are merely a phone call away and can make decisions about your parents' health care from afar.

Caregiving from a long distance can be emotionally draining and incredibly fulfilling at the same time. Use this list as a basic blueprint of ways you can help, and add other things that may help your unique situation. Instead of feeling guilty that you are not close by, concentrate your energy in the more positive direction of doing what you can to the best of your ability. Facing challenges with a positive and proactive approach makes long-distance caregiving easier for all involved.

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