Tips for Long-distance
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
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
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
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
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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Articles written by Gardner Riel, owner and founder of ElderLink.
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