A few days ago, my mother turned 71. She and my father, who’s the same age, live about two hours away from me. Mom is doing just fine, but she’s getting around on artificial knees. She’s also diabetic, a breast cancer survivor, and some years ago she had six heart bypasses and a heart valve replaced. I occasionally refer to her as the bionic woman.
Fortunately for my mother, my father is still relatively hale and hearty. They will be celebrating 50 years of marriage in September, and while mom is slowing down a bit, dad is still a full-steam-ahead kind of guy.
That’s not to say that I don’t worry about them. Every now and then, the blood thinners my mother takes cause blood to seep into one of her artificial knee joints. It’s very painful, and that’s when she has to break out the walker and the ice packs. Dad has a part-time job, and we both worry that a day will come when she’ll somehow find herself incapacitated while he’s at work.
When geography comes between us and our parents, what’s a person to do? Fretting is always an option, but there are ways to help care for the important people in our lives even when they live some distance away.
First, it’s important to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your loved ones’ needs will be unique, and so then will your caregiving approach. My father’s good health, for example, minimizes the amount of caregiving required of me vis-à-vis my parents. Should that change, though, the kind and amount of care I give my parents will change, as well.
AARP recommends gathering important information that you might need in a crisis before one occurs. This includes lists of your loved ones’ prescribed medication and dosages, names and contact information for their doctors, information about finances, etc. My parents, for instance, have told me where in their home I’m able to find insurance information in case one or both of them becomes incapacitated.
When compiling this information, make sure you include the name and contact information for at least one person who does live near your parents and can check in on them if necessary. I was in a panic one weekend recently when I was unable to reach my parents via telephone for more than three days. I was just about to call their best friends, who live in the same apartment complex that they do, when mom finally returned my call following a busy few days visiting friends and running errands.
For an extra bit of reassurance that your loved ones are being checked on, consider talking with them about the Carrier Alert Program. A joint program between the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) and the U.S. Postal Service and for those enrolled the local mail carrier keeps an eye out for signs of trouble. Letter carriers are specially trained to identify unusual circumstances, such as an unexpected accumulation of uncollected mail, lights burning at unusual hours, pets that appear to be in distress, etc. As part of the Carrier Alert program, your loved one’s mail carrier can contact emergency services if he/she believes your loved one is in danger.
Not only can pets alert mail carriers of trouble, but they can alert neighbors, as well. In August 2010, the Associated Press reported on a dachshund named Missy who ran into a neighbor’s yard and refused to leave. The neighbor followed her home and found Missy’s owner, who had collapsed following heart surgery. The neighbor was able to alert authorities, and Missy’s owner recovered. It might sound like something out of an episode of “Lassie,” but stories of pets saving their owners are numerous, and their loyalty could be just what your loved one needs to give both of you more peace of mind.
Of course, if a caregiver of the four-legged variety isn’t in the offing, consider exploring services in your community that can be of assistance. The Eldercare Locator, which is provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging, offers information about a variety of services — from adult daycare programs to legal services to transportation — of which you can avail yourself in caring for your loved ones from a distance. A search in my parents’ community identified local agencies on aging, health insurance counseling services and legal service providers.
Living at a distance from friends and loved ones does not mean you cannot assist in their care. You can help them plan, you can take steps to prepare yourself and you can avail yourself of a plethora of resources to help ensure that those you care about are cared for.
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
AARP: Advice for the Long-Distance Caregiver – www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/qa-tool/long-distance-caregiving/
Eldercare Locator – www.eldercare.gov
Family Caregiver Alliance – www.caregiver.org
Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers - www.caregiver.org/sites/caregiver.org/files/pdfs/LongDistanceCG_Handbook_2014.pdf
NALC Carrier Alert – www.nalc.org/community-service/carrier-alert
“Heroic Dog Alerts Neighbor” – www.bendbulletin.com/news/1426788-151/heroic-dog-alerts-neighbor