Services for Elders and Their Families
when miles or circumstances prevent you from being there.
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ElderLink Inc. is a professional geriatric care management group, comprised of dedicated specialists trained and experienced in the assessment, coordination, and monitoring of services for older adults.  more...
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Tips for Long-distance Caregivers

The voice on the other end of the telephone was frantic. Louise Smith had gone home with her children to visit her elderly mother for the holiday weekend. When she arrived at her mothers house, it did not take her long to realize that something was wrong. Her mother, usually a women who prided herself on being an avid housekeeper, had let the interior of her house fall into disarray.

Her mother did not appear to be taking care of herself either. She appeared to have lost some weight and there did not appear to be any groceries in the house. When she questioned her mother about the circumstances, she stated that she had not been able to go to the store and had not felt like doing much of anything else.

Scenarios like this occur more frequently around the holiday, when many long-distance caregivers typically visit their older relatives. Long-distance Caregivers typically rely heavily on the telephone to evaluate how their elder is doing. When they finally visit the elder, perhaps only once a year, many adult children often state, “I thought that she was doing fine living on her own...” or “I’m not sure when she started to fail, how could I have known?”

Caregivers find themselves trapped trying to decide how they are going to return to their own homes and jobs, and trying to care for their elders. Especially if the elder needs to be placed in an alternative living situation.

The holidays can be a stressful time. Below are a few tips to bear in mind when you are a long distance caregiver concerned about your elder:

Talk to your elder.
This may seem simplistic, but it always amazes me how, in our high-tech, fast paced lives, we overlook the obvious and the simple. Talking to an elder may be difficult, and you may need to wait for the most opportune time. Sometimes just being open and listening may be the best way to gather information about how your elder is feeling; what they feel about their present situation.

Assess the environment.
Does the elders house appear safe. Check for loose flooring and things that the elder may trip or fall on. Make sure electrical and telephone cords are out of the way. You may want to have a security company come in and do an environmental safety evaluation for outside lighting and hazards.

Check the elders refrigerator for spoiled and old food. Recent research shows that as a person ages they do not lose taste buds, but they do lose some of their ability to smell. This can be dangerous, as an older person may not detect the odor that would help us realize food has gone bad.

Don’t jump to conclusions.
There are a variety of reasons that older adults may not be taking care of themselves or their homes as in the past. Less serious reasons include; loneliness due to lack of social interaction and social isolation, inability to complete daily chores due to health concerns, The reasons could be as simple as needing some social interaction or light assistance with weekly chores.

Include other family members.
Try not to take all of the decision making responsibility on yourself. You may want to call other relatives or friends in the area for assistance. Gather as much information as possible. Try to ascertain why the elder is not caring for themselves as before. Solicit information from neighbors or friends of the elder. Talk to anyone that has had regular contact with the elder.

Have a medical assessment done by a competent physician.
If the elder appears to be impaired, depressed, or confused it is important to understand why. Many types of dementia are reversible. The elder should be evaluated by a physician knowledgeable about aging. If you do not feel comfortable with the physicians evaluation, seek additional opinions.

Don’t make hasty decisions regarding your elders care.
This can be difficult, especially when the adult child needs to return to their own jobs and homes. Bear in mind that some decisions are not easily reversed and making decisions to quickly, can be costly for the elder - both financially and emotionally.

Keep your elder informed.
Remembering that your elder is not a child - no matter what you have heard, people do not turn back into children. It is important to keep your elder up on all of your efforts on their behalf; asking them for input and ideas. They may have additional information to add, or come up with other ideas.

If the elder is not overtly confused and not in danger, you may be able to make temporary arrangements for in-home support, while the elder is being evaluated. Remember that if your older relative is mentally competent to make decisions, as much as their choices may worry you, any decision is ultimately theirs. Life is full of risks. And even the most well meaning adult child cannot protect an elder from life’s ups and downs.


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