Being There for Your Parents When They Live Far Away

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Working with caregivers and families of elders, its a question I hear frequently: "Dad is in a nursing home 50 miles away. How can I be there for him?" or "Mom's assisted living community is in another state. We can't visit often. How can the family make sure she's OK?"

If your parent lives in a senior community that is located far away from where you live, you likely experience guilt because you feel you aren't there for your parent enough. This is common for long-distance caregivers. The key is to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation, do your best, and don't blame yourself for not being there.

Long Distance Caregiving Tips

Visit as often as you can, whether its once a month, or once a year. If you can't visit frequently, find other family members or close friends who might be willing to occasionally make the trip. The responsibility can't be on your shoulders alone.

When guilt creeps in that you haven't visited lately, remember this: What your parent needs most from visits is quality, not quantity.

If you can only visit once a month, for example, then plan your visit to do some activities. Bring old pictures from the past to talk about and help remember the good times (Even if your parent has Alzheimer's disease, they often remember the distant past much better than they remember recent events.)

Whatever your parent's hobbies were in the past, bring memorabilia in some form. For example, if dad loved to play football, bring a soft football for him to hold, watch part of a football game together, bring old pictures from his football days, etc. If mom enjoyed gardening, bring a potted plant that she can care for.

When visiting your parent, you may feel that there is just too much to do in the time that you have. You can get more done and feel less stressed by talking to your parent ahead of time and finding out what he or she would like to do. A visit does not need to be long and verbal the whole time. Quality is more important.

Also, pencil in some time to talk to the staff. They should be communicating with you even when you aren't in town, but take advantage of the face time to get a progress report on your parent's health, eating habits, socialization, changes in personality, etc.

Even when visiting isn't possible, there are many ways to keep in touch with your parent. Phone calls and letters are an option, and the world of technology has opened up many other ways to keep in touch from afar, including email, or even Skype if its available at the senior community where they live. Expecting a call from a loved one,or knowing there will be an email waiting is often enough to lift a senior's spirits, and can provide the caregiver some insights into the elder's well-being.

Deanna Lueckenotte is the author of "Alzheimer's Days Gone By: For Those Caring for Their Loved Ones." She plans to continue publishing books related to Alzheimer's and caregivers. She would also like to continue her education by obtaining her doctorate in geriatrics.

Alzheimer’s Days Gone By

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2 Comments


long distance curtailing as an option. I wish!!!! Your parent will have a poor quality of life if you're not there pretty much every day -- although your own quaity of life as a caretaker will cetrainly be simpler..Some facilities wouldn't even take your parent.A state or an appointed attorney or local guardian is typically required for parent to be admitted to any assisted living facility so most want somebody close they can call for every major or minor crisis.. I had to move to Florida so my mother can live in the one she liked. They may be called assisted living, but its the childten who do the assisting. My mother has some sort of cognitive disorder so I'm the one who makes sure she has money every week for manicures and small purchases and change her hearing aid batteries as she has arthritis and findind a med tech who can change batteries is like finding gold.I;m the one who makes sure she sees doctors and am there to ask questions. . i;m the one who takes her on field trips so she can maintain some sort of independence. And if I didn't see my mother on an evey other day bassi she would have died from any of the many dieases like inner ar infections of urinary tract infections -simply because the primary syptoms at her age for those diseses are ":confusion,' .I am the one and only person who knows when when my mother is acting stangely.( Staff at assisted living basically asuume everybody there is confused and the head nurse was not even aware elderly women do not spike fever or have burning sensations when they have a urniary tract infection.) And by the way my mother lives in very chic, very highly reccomended Florida assisted facility. As to email- huh??? One of the bigget problems for anyone older than 85 is that they missed a whole generation of technology which led to a lot of isolation-- all as a result of the time at which they left the work force.. And even tablets don't work for them bcause we use theirr wrists more than our fingers as we age. (Apple pulled back their marketing of tablets as gifts for older parents for just this reason. )
My advice would be to find somebody in town who REALLY knows your parent and have them drop by at least there times a week -especially if your parent uses hearing aids..
Good to see your thinking.