Caregiving

1/10/2023 | By Donna Brody

If you can’t be with your aging parent but you’re concerned about monitoring their safety and health, you can consider yourself a long-distance caregiver. These ideas can help ease your mind while keeping your loved one safe.

I was not with my mother when she passed away in 2001. I lived more than 700 miles away, as did one of my sisters. Fortunately, our five other siblings could be with her in her final hours. Even 21 years later, I still often think about not being there. I don’t feel guilty, but I do feel sad. At that time, we didn’t have the technology for me to be with my family remotely.

Most adult children live closer to their parents than my sister and I did.

“Roughly three in four American adults live within 30 miles of their nearest parent or adult child, according to a 2019 study,” reports The Atlantic. “Only about 7% have their nearest such relative 500 or more miles away.”

Having grown children nearby may be comforting to older adults who want to age in place, but not every adult child has adequate time to care for a parent or other loved one full time.

When grown children live apart from their aging parents, they may need to be prepared to monitor the situation from outside the home. The senior adult, too, should be prepared to implement safety and monitoring measures – for their own safety and their kids’ peace of mind. Thankfully, caregiver service providers, community programs, and new technology make this manageable.

Suggestions for the long-distance caregiver

Reach out for help locally

Numerous home care agencies are available to provide services at your loved one’s home, ranging from simple companion care to home health care.

home meal delivery to a senior woman. Image by Arne9001. These ideas for the long-distance caregiver help with monitoring a loved one's safety and health, thus easing the caregiver's mind.

If meal preparation and nutrition are of concern, reach out to community programs like Meals on Wheels. In addition to bringing in nutritious meals, the nationwide program offers companionship and a watchful eye on the health and safety of the people they serve.

“For many, the trusted Meals on Wheels volunteer or staff member who shows up every day with a meal and a smile is the only person they see or speak with all day,” Meals on Wheels says. “This special delivery is the reason to get up in the morning, something to look forward to, and a reminder to take good care of themselves.” Check the website for availability near your loved one’s home.

Use technology for enhanced communication

Evolving technology makes caregiving from a distance more manageable.

Alexa Together from Amazon links the long-distance caregiver and their loved one. It can provide customized alerts, 24/7 urgent response, an activity feed, medication and appointment reminders, fall detection response, video chat, and more. Other family members can be added to the service, too.

Today’s communications have come a long way from party lines and exorbitant long-distance phone rates. By using a video-chat service such as Facetime, Zoom, Skype, or Amazon Alexa, families stay in touch on a more personal level. Perhaps more important for the long-distance caregiver, you can see changes in your loved one that might be of concern, such as weight loss, depression, hygiene issues, etc.

Related: A step-by-step guide to using Zoom

Depending on the level of monitoring needed, set up chats daily, weekly, or even a few times a day. Besides providing a safety check, these chats with family (especially grandchildren) can definitely brighten the person’s day.

Put home safety technology in place

Older woman at home cutting tomatoes, wearing a Fitbit. For article on the long-distance caregiver and caregiving tips.

Other devices help provide location services and health and safety monitoring of loved ones, including assistive technology for seniors. These services, devices, or tools help older adults perform activities that might otherwise be impossible or, at the very least, challenging. Assistive technology can help people in various ways, but for seniors, it is primarily a way to maximize their independence.

Wearable medical alert devices can be used at home and on the go. Cellular monitoring allows for this with GPS location service that is especially important for someone who might become lost or disoriented.

Other devices like the Apple Watch 8 and some Fitbit trackers have built-in monitors to track health data, remind wearers to take medications, or detect falls or irregular heartbeats. GPS location can also be monitored on these devices.

Home technology can support a senior’s independence in aging at home. Security devices such as Ring camera doorbells and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can help ensure your loved one’s safety.

Conveniences like touchless faucets and robot vacuums can make life easier for an older adult living alone, too.

While enhancing the senior’s life, these ideas can give the long-distance caregiver greater peace of mind.

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Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.