When you live at a distance from your aging parent, as so many adult children do, you become a long-distance caregiver and advocate sooner or later. Human nature is to get about your busy life each day until something gets your attention, like a crisis. Unfortunately, a crisis is the worst time to make the best decisions about care.
It is possible to be a good, competent, and caring advocate for your aging parent when you live far away. Long-distance families face decisions about care, home accessibility, obtaining crucial medical information, and creating a safe home environment for the future. It is never too late to start, but the sooner, the better.
Nothing takes the place of advance planning, and the value of the process can’t be overstated. It is human nature to delay planning for things that may or may not happen, but aging can bring about unexpected changes. You will want to be prepared. Advance planning documents have different names depending on where you live, but these are the vital pieces to have in place.
Advance directives are legal documents that explain what medical decisions your parents want to be made if they can’t decide themselves. Many advance directives also include health care power of attorney, which allows you, as a power of attorney, to talk to your aging parent’s healthcare providers and access medical information regarding their care. Due to HIPPA (confidentiality) laws, you won’t get far without healthcare power of attorney.
Finances can be a touchy subject between an aging adult and children. But, discussing your aging parent’s complete financial situation and obtaining financial power of attorney (to be used if needed) will save you time, money, and heartache later. Just as with healthcare power of attorney, you can’t help pay bills, investigate scams or fraud, or otherwise assist your parent with managing their estate without financial authority. Consider meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss mechanisms for managing finances, like setting up a trust.
Having discussions about care before your parent needs it will make the transition easier. Suppose your parents are adamant about aging in place. In that case, that is doable with enough financial resources, so discuss the specifics about the cost of various levels of care and how to make that possible.
Even with an in-person visit, it is hard to know what your parents need to make their home fully functional and safe. Hazards in the house put an aging parent at risk of falls. One out of four people over the age of 65 has a fall, and the consequences can be catastrophic.
A Ruby expert will take time to understand your parent’s life and needs, and then assess the safety hazards in their home. Arranging an outside professional company like Ruby is easy to do when you live far away from your aging parents. And your aging parents might be much more willing to accept a professional company to make those suggestions than anyone else.
If you can’t visit, we have some other suggestions, but visiting will give you a window into what the reality of your parent’s situation is. Adult children are often shocked to see how much an aging parent has declined when they haven’t visited in a while. When an aging parent tells you they are “fine,” the reality might be quite different.
In between visits, use video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Facetime to stay connected. You want to communicate in a way that builds trust and keeps you involved.
Geriatric care managers can be a valuable resource by providing a one-time consultation or ongoing care management. A good care manager will do a detailed evaluation of home safety issues (where they can contact Ruby to arrange for an in-depth occupational therapy home and safety assessment), evaluate nutrition, medication management, mobility issues, and more.
If you have an indication that your aging parent is beginning to need more help, reach out to an in-home personal care agency. Be prepared for your parent to be resistant to this idea, but introduce home-care as a starting point to help them age in place. A good home care company can be another set of eyes on your parent’s condition and functioning.
If you have other siblings living far away, make sure you include them in discussions and decisions. Otherwise, they might feel left out. And besides, you will get more accomplished working as a team.
In your zeal to advocate for your parent when you live at a distance, don’t forget that decisions should be mutual and respectful. When people feel that they are empowered to control their lives, they are more open to change. You are, after all, still the child.
It is normal to feel some anxiety and loss of control when you live far away from aging parents. Putting all of our tips together can help you build a foundation of care, safety, and advocacy that will give you and your family peace of mind. Ruby can be a valuable part of that process by ensuring a safe, livable and accessible home.
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