Evaluate Needs and Abilities
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
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.