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How To Get Help

Collect Information

Evaluate Needs and Abilities

Locate Vital Documents

Gather Information on
Medical History

Locate Support System

Manage Finances

Manage Legal Documents

Caregiver Conferencing

Make Decisions

What to Do » Collect Information

Evaluate Needs and Abilities

Take Notice

It's painful to visit our loved ones and see them struggle with routine tasks. Yet your parents may be stubborn, waiting till the last minute to call for help, then plunging everyone into a crisis. Being a distance caregiver makes these emergencies even more worrisome and stressful. Your primary goals are to involve your parents in a process to identify issues and specific needs before an emergency, and develop a written family plan for maintaining contact during crisis situations. These are the central steps in organizing for distance care. Your role is to reinforce the idea that you value their dignity, self-pride and independence and seek to improve the quality of their life. This is a survival strategy of major importance.

Identify Problems, Needs and Risk

The first step is identifying their "care needs". The process can occur informally or formally. It can involve many people inside or outside the family. Since you're already prepared to pitch in and help, as a distance caregiver you can sharpen your focus by breaking these problems down into smaller, more manageable units. You may also save time and money spent seeking professional assistance, by preparing answers to these questions in advance.

You don't have to be on the scene all the time to gather the needed information for the second step. Through phone conversation, email, or by reaching out to include trusted neighbors or relatives, you can become better informed about issues affecting their wellbeing.

When visiting in person and spending time together, pay close attention to the telling details which indicate that changes in their care may be necessary. In most families, you can also expect a time lag between your observation and any corrective action. Don't be shy about bringing up your concerns. At the same time, try not to trivialize, antagonize or discount the suggestions of other family caregivers on the scene.

For example, if Mom is having frequent auto accidents or getting lost while driving, it may be time to stop driving. If she is socially isolated because she no longer drives, she may need transportation to be with people, or perhaps should move closer to activities. If her vision or hearing or memory are failing, these conditions will have profound effects on her emotional health. Assistive devices and home modification repairs, a trained pet to serve as eyes or ears, or counseling and home care can help her adapt.

The following list (adapted from the Care Management Guide, Caregivers in the Workplace, AARP, l987) can help you start your own list of particulars:

My relative ...
___ needs to get out of the house
___ can manage light housecleaning but needs help with heavy tasks
___ is grieving over the death of a loved one
___ doesn't eat regularly
___ shouldn't be left home alone
___ pays insufficient attention to money matters
___ needs special services for physical limitations
___ needs 24-hour supervision


  • Be sensitive to warning signs that indicate cognitive and functional loss relating to competency. Memory loss, inattention to personal health and self-care, inconsistent medication management, and a decreasing ability to cope with such outside intrusions as telephone scams or door-to-door fraud, are all warning signs of a need for more help.

  • A basic functional skills assessment focuses on what experts call Activities of Daily Living (ADL). On your next visit, note whether your parent is independent or needs help walking, transferring (from chair to bed), bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, using the toilet or dealing with incontinence. These key questions are used by social workers, Medicaid, the Veterans' Administration and long term care insurance providers. They often determine eligibility for benefit assistance.

  • A range of coping skills known as IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living) can evaluate the need for assistance when driving, grocery shopping, doing housework, preparing meals, managing finances, using the phone and doing laundry.

  • Are alcohol or drugs affecting behavior? Are emotional issues such as depression or anxiety interfering with quality of life?

  • Have problems with vision and hearing and teeth been checked recently? Are glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and assistive devices like walkers, up to par?

  • Is the home environment safe and free from hazards? Weak eyes, hearing loss, muscle deterioration, or osteoporosis can make the elderly more vulnerable to accidents and injuries at home. On your visit, pay close attention to whether the home has adequate lighting or non-skid pads under rugs. Are everyday necessities within easy reach? Are there grab bars in the bathroom, or railings by all stairs?

For additional articles on home safety and emergency preparedness in our library, click here or click our Assistive Device button at the bottom of this screen.

Click to view "10 Warning Signs: Your Older Family Member May Need Help" prepared by the Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator or to review the North Central Texas Family Caregivers OnLine program, click here.

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