Episode 022: Day 13 – Long Distance Adult Kids Can Be Caregivers

Episode Description:

Host Zack Demopoulos launches his 30 day preparation plan to care for an aging adult. In Day 13, Zack talks about being a long distance adult kid caring and worrying about your aging parent and some things you can do about it.

Show Notes:

Day 13:  Long Distance Adult Kids Can Be Caregivers

Are you a long-distance adult kid? Do you live an average of 450 miles away from your care recipient?   I am.  I live 636 miles away from Mom—she is in North Carolina and I am in New Jersey.  According to the National Council on Aging, there are approximately 7 million caregivers in the U.S. who are long-distance caregivers (that’s 15 % of all caregivers).  [National Council on Aging. (2006).   And yes, long distance adult kids can and are caregivers.   We’ll discuss this topic on Day 13 of the 30 Day Preparation Plan To Care For An Aging Parent.

Welcome to the Raising ‘Rents Podcast.  This show is sponsored by ComForCare, a national home care provider that will help you live your best life possible.  Day13 of the 30 Day Preparation Plan is the next step in preparing a plan to become a caregiver. Keep in mind as we go throughout this process that our primary goal for family caregiving, regardless of circumstances, is to provide a loved one with a comfortable, caring environment in which to grow old.

Even if you are not a long-distance adult kid, it would be good to listen in because you may have a sibling or friend who is and you can help them out with some of what we talk about.

The reason why it is an important topic is because it is reported that long-distance caregivers are more likely to report emotional distress (47%) than caregivers either residing with their care recipient (43%) or residing less than one hour away (28%). [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2004). Caregiving in the U.S.]

I read a recent article that I felt was good stuff to share on this episode.  I have the link to it in the show notes and it’s called “Helping from Far Away” on The Today’s Caregiver blog found on caregiver.com website.

So, what is causing some of this emotional distress?  Speaking from experience, I can tell you it is very frustrating to have a phone call with Mom and you can tell she does not sound like her regular self, or she’ll say things like “I can’t believe I left the stove on the other day”, or perhaps she may have tripped and tells you weeks later.  Or she will keep saying “what, what?” and you’ll ask why she is not wearing her hearing aids and she will have some kind of excuse.  Or your biggest fear, you may start sensing some forgetfulness, beyond what is typical of aging.  I am really stressed when I get off the phone and I do everything I can to calm down before I call my brother who is there locally and over react perhaps making him feel defensive or overly concerned as well.  And let’s face it, I do carry some caregiver guilt.  I am not there locally to help out all the time and I do feel guilty about it.  That causes some stress too.  And there is a financial burden that I do not worry about necessarily today but can be an issue.  It has been shown that long distance caregivers spend much more than the local caregivers.  One figure has it estimated at about $392 a month on phone calls, travel expenses, and help with things like medicine, medical supplies, meals and home maintenance.  Wow.  I don’t think I spend anywhere near that now, but when my father was ill and I was going down to North Carolina every other month, I am sure I was spending that kind of money.  And that doesn’t count time away from work.  They say 80% of long distance caregivers are employed and at least 36% are missing an average of 20 hours of work per month to conduct caregiving duties.  So essentially you must always be ready to “care commute” and you need to have travel options available at all times whether it is saving airline points for free travel or keeping the car in good shape.

The advantage of being a long-distance caregiver usually is when you go visit, like the holidays or during a vacation, you stay with your care recipient for an extended period of time and man can you find out a lot about what is going on with them.  You really need to make the most of these visits, both in a loving and caring way, and in an efficient and effective manner when it comes to caregiving.

While visiting Mom or Dad or both, look for things like their living situation—how safe is it?  They are getting older, legs are getting weaker, the house does not stay as clean so there may be fall risks that you need to look for.  What is their support system? What is their overall quality of life – not just their health, but their wellbeing in general? Do they have a social life? Are they managing their finances or are you seeing signs of neglect, fraud or abuse?  Is the medication being managed properly?  Are there expired drugs? Expired food products in the fridge and cabinets?  Are they eating well?  Does the car have dents in it?  Are the filters for the AC or heat clean or need replacing?  Is the yard well kept?  Have there been phone scammers calling?  Mail and other things piling up?  A lot of sleeping during the day?  Weight gain or loss?  How is the eye sight and hearing? What about the neighbors—what have they seen?  Any visitors come to the house?

Okay—-I am not trying to overwhelm you.  I was brainstorming—or more like brain spitting.  Sorry about that.  Hear is the good news.  There are things you can do to help out their situation and yours.  And you do not need to do everything in one visit—please don’t do that.  Mom may throw you out of the house like she threatened to do to me—kind of half kidding.

First, if you really feel you need help, the situation has escalated, and you may not be as comfortable to tackle this on your own and there really is no one else nearby, it may be wise to look into hiring a local Aging Life Care Specialists (they used to be called Geriatric Care Managers).  I have two full episodes on the Raising Rent’s Podcast that you can hear all about who they are and what they can do for you.  Basically, they can manage a situation for you and be your eyes and ears.  They are experts in the care needed for aging adults who want to age in place and know how to secure various resources like home care services, doctors who make house calls, food deliveries, shopping, driving, etc.  They are excellent advocates for the person.

Another source is the local Area Agencies on Aging (in the U.S.).  They can also come out and do an assessment on a loved-one’s situation.  You can go to a website called the Eldercare Locator and find the local government resources—there are quite a few in different areas of need.  http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx

Always a good idea too to exchange numbers with a neighbor and or a close by friend that you can rely on to check in on your parent.

Next you should consider an emergency response system for the house.  You know the “I have fallen and I can’t get up commercials”.  They have come a long way in technology and it is the best way your parent can get help if they have fallen.  They are relatively inexpensive too, like less than $25 a month, with some of the fancier models that automatically detect a fall around $30+.

Next, have a family meeting with anyone local and of course with your parent or parents.  You can have everyone join in by video or phone.  With face time on your phone it will help people feel a part of the process.  In the meeting, summarize all the needs and prioritize them into a care plan.  Write them down.  Assign responsibilities.  Make sure Mom and Dad feel they are ultimately making the decision even though you are influencing them.  These talks can be tough.  Let’s face it, you’re family and you care, but emotions can get in the way.  It may be a good idea to have a third-party person involved to help facilitate the discussion and in the creation of the care plan.

Some of the things that should be discussed and planned for should be considered for the current time frame and down the road.  Things like who will help with chores both inside and outside the house.  With errands like shopping for food and necessary items.  Do they need meals delivered? Do they need someone to help them with their ADL’s or activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, meal preparation?  Do they need help with transportation to doctor appointments and social activities?  Do they need help with bills, finances?  Do we need an elder law attorney to be involved?  How safe is the home—are there grab bars, nonslip carpets, proper lighting, smoke alarms, clear hallways and stairs, and hand-held showers?

With today’s technology, there is a lot you can do remotely.  You can manage mom and dad’s finances.  Make sure you have the proper legal authority to do so.  Very important that you do.  You can make doctor’s appointments. You can research medical issues and treatments. You can purchase supplies and have them sent to the house like supplements and vitamins. You can even do grocery shopping long-distance and order meals. Perhaps have video cameras in place.  A two-way system that will allow engagement with your parent as well as safety supervision.  Consider telemedicine—where vital signs can be read and transmitted to you or the doctor.  How cool is that?  You can also put tracking devices on someone who has dementia in case they wander outside of the house and property.

Last but not least, call mom and dad every day. It can make their day and changes their mood.  Emotional support is the greatest resource you have that you can easily provide.

The emphasis of the topic today was about Mom or Dad being alone at home.  It is a whole other topic when it comes time to think about Mom or Dad downsizing or moving into another place like an assisted living or retirement community.

So that’s Day 13.  Join us for Day 14 as we talk more about aging in place and what that involves.

Thank you for listening to the Raising ‘Rents podcast.  This was Episode 22.  If you have any questions or feedback, please go to our website www.raisingrents.com and click on the “Contact” tab.  You can also find the show notes and references to anything we talked about.  Until we talk again, remember that our parents raised us, the least we can do is help raise them. Talk to you later.

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