New Year's Resolutions for the Desperate Long Distance Caregiver

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Eldercare expert gerontologist Cheryl Kuba offers strategies as New Year's resolutions to make long distance caregiving a stress-free success for you and your aging parent.

Maybe home is where the heart is, but if you are not home and desperately worried about an ailing loved one who lives 2,000 miles away, your anguish can be a ticking time-bomb for your own health and future happiness.

Eldercare expert and gerontologist Cheryl Kuba offers strategies that can be adopted as New Year's resolutions to make long distance caregiving a stress-free success for you and your aging parent. "According to a study by Metropolitan Life (2005), more than 7 million adult children are caring for their parents long distance," Kuba said. "While the internet and cell phones can put us in immediate contact with our loved ones, there is no substitute for the human touch or being able to see with our own eyes that our parents are safe, and well cared for." Long distance caregivers live an average of 304 miles away from their care receivers, according to statistics from the National Coalition on Aging (NCOA).

In her book Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents: What Care Receivers Want (Routlege 2006), Kuba outlines what the dependent elderly expect from their children who live far away, as well as the concerns that the adult children have about mom and dad not living just down the block. "As we venture into a new year our own new year's resolutions should include a reasonable, updated game plan for long distance caregiving," Kuba said.

Resolutions to insure the well-being and comfort for a relative who lives miles away:

Advance Directives. It's a new year. Time to revisit the affairs that are in order, or simply get your parent's affairs in order. Specifically, make sure that the Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney and organ donation card (if this is your loved one's choice) are up to date. Too many families wind up in court at the same time that their ailing family member is dying in a hospital, because nobody checked the advance directives. In some cases, guardianship needs to be established long before a loved one's dying days.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: KNOW WHERE THESE DOCUMENTS ARE KEPT! Whether it is a safe deposit box, file cabinet, a lawyer's office or a shoe box under the bed, you should know and should also alert someone who lives close to your parent how to locate these documents. Some elderly individuals choose to tape an envelope to the refrigerator with the living will and durable power of attorney inside. If paramedics are called, they will have the documents in hand in a matter of minutes.

Consider Care Management. Eldercare managers or case managers can be hired to do all kinds of tasks for your parents including scheduling appointments, doing paperwork, hiring housekeeping and even pet care services. Care managers are often considered as "the other daughter" and can serve as a terrific professional liaison between you and your parent. Contact the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers, http://www.caremanager.org.                                                

Local contacts as back up. It's time to update that list of local contacts. One adult daughter that we worked with was frantic because her mother's health care power of attorney had been given to an elderly woman who was now hospitalized with Alzheimer's disease. Comb through your parent's social network of neighbors, church folks and friends to see if there isn't someone who can frequently visit and give you an update on how your parent is doing. A good source is the Eldercare Locator, http://www.eldercare.gov , for help in your parent's community.

Family members. It's hard to believe that just as your aging parent grows older, so do the grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Maybe one of your nieces or nephews is old enough now to do 'grandma check-ins' as a part time job. Perhaps the situation for your siblings or Godchildren has changed, and they can help with the tasks of taking your parent to appointments.

In town assessments. During your next visit, do a thorough assessment of your parents' living situation. Is their environment still safe? Are there spills around the stove that could indicate poor eyesight, or lack of recognition about food spilling over?

Do a physical 'walk around' with your parent, in their home. Before every flight, the captain or first officer on each commercial flight does a physical 'walk around' to make sure that the plane is in ship shape. Are the lights and vents working, etc? Have the conversation with your parent about falling, as the two of you walk through their living room, and into the bedroom. Phrase the question by saying, "When you fall ..." not, "If you fall ...". One-third of all falls with the elderly occur from hazards in the home. As you pass various locations in each room, the question should be, "When you fall over here by the window, how will you get help?" Whether or not you get the best answer to this question, you have started the conversation, and started your parent thinking about the possibilities of a fall. This is also a great time to talk about emergency alert devices.

Telephones. Cell phones and cordless phones can be both a blessing and a hindrance for your parent. Cell phones need to always be charged; and, with a few exceptions, most buttons and displays on cell phones aren't user friendly for someone with poor eyesight or arthritic hands. Cordless phones work, but are useless if the power goes off. Always have a phone with a cord in the home.

Time zones. We worked with an adult daughter named Jean, who lived in London, while her 85-year-old mother lived in the United States. Even though the daughter told her mother to call on her cell phone, the elderly mom rarely ever called because of the distance, the cost and the confusion over the time zones. Jean became so anxious about her mother refusing to call, that she moved back to the U.S. Now Jean's mother uses the same cell phone number and calls her daughter frequently. The hurdle here was the obstacle in her mother's mind about placing a transatlantic call.

Know that you are doing your best. No two families are alike, and no two situations are alike. What may have been an emergency crisis for your Aunt Mabel in Omaha may be solved by getting your mom in Chicago to take two aspirin.

Take care of yourself, celebrate each moment and 2008 will be a Happy New Year!

Selecting author and former radio talk show host Cheryl Kuba as a guest on your program or in your publication will enrich the experience for your listeners, viewers, and readers as she delivers fact-filled information and answers about the elder care arena. Her expertise and enthusiasm come from her thorough exploration of the emotional issues of parenting parents, and from her experience dealing with the patient who is angry with his or her adult children. She is an expert at carrying the message of what the dependent elderly really want at this stage of life. Visit http://www.agingparentsolutions.com.

Cheryl A. Kuba
Aging Parent Solutions, LLC
4250 N. Marine Dr. #2136                                                            
Chicago, IL 60613     
http://www.agingparentsolutions.com          
w: 773-327-2988    
After 6 p.m.: h: 773-327-9331, c: 773-793-7317
cheryl@agingparentsolutions.com        

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