Tips for Long Distance Caregivers

Tips for Long Distance Caregivers

Dear Donna:

I’m hoping you have some ideas that might help me care for my 83-year-old mother long distance, at least for a while. She lives alone in northern Michigan in the house my siblings and I grew up in. Until my dad passed away 6 months ago, it seemed like a safe and happy place for her to live. After his passing, I’ve become more concerned.

My mom has macular degeneration that is somewhat controlled with treatment. While she isn’t able to drive, she manages fairly well at home. The retina specialist she sees tells us that could change fairly quickly, however.

I don’t want to try to force her into moving to a senior living community so soon after losing my dad. However, I feel like we need a plan for managing her care now and once her vision worsens. My dad always handled tasks like filling her medication tray and driving her to the doctor for her treatments.

I live on the West Coast with my family but visit my mom every few months. It’s the time in between that concerns me. Do you have any tips for supporting a parent long distance? When will I know it’s time to be more forceful in encouraging her to move?

Sincerely,

Justine

Caring Across the Miles: Tips For Long-Distance Caregivers

Dear Justine:

First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. I’m sure that is difficult on many levels, not the least of which is concern for your mother.

We often hear from adult children whose parents have been able to compensate for one another’s challenges and can live safely at home. Once one parent is on their own, however, the need for change becomes more pressing. A few factors I would encourage you to consider and plan for are:

  • Finding transportation: For many older adults, especially those in rural communities like northern Michigan, finding reliable transportation to and from appointments and errands is a challenge. If your mom doesn’t have a friend or family member who can help, contact your local agency on aging. Many maintain lists of either volunteers or professional services who assist seniors with transportation.
  • Investigating prescription packaging: Since you mentioned your dad always filled your mom’s pill box, I’m sure this is a worry for you now. You could try calling the pharmacies she uses to see if they offer packaging services. They are sometimes referred to as punch cards. Pharmacies pre-fill these in the order/time of day a dose should be taken. That helps prevent older adults from making dangerous mistakes with medication. If that isn’t an option, try a tech service like the MedMinder pill organizer.
  • Creating a local support system: Another suggestion is to try to assemble a local support team for your mom. This could include friends or family who are willing to check on her and could get to her quickly in the event of an emergency. If you don’t feel comfortable relying on them, consider hiring a geriatric care manager. These care management professionals can usually help with everything from overseeing people you hire to clean your mom’s house or mow the lawn to beginning the process of downsizing a senior’s home.
  • Utilizing video chat: Don’t underestimate how valuable video chatting with your mom every few days can be. It will allow you to see her face-to-face to assess how she is doing and even how her house looks. If she doesn’t already use a device like an iPad, it’s probably worth investing in one and helping her set up Zoom or Skype.
  • Trying home delivery services: Investigate which local stores and services are available to support independence. For example, many pharmacies will deliver to older adults at no additional cost. See if her favorite grocery store delivers or works with a service that does. If funds permit, maybe hire a personal chef who comes right to the home. Some will prepare meals for clients and stock their freezer.
  • Exploring vision support resources: Lastly, try to connect with an organization that advocates for and assists people with vision loss or a vision impairment. Most communities have nonprofit agencies that fill this role. They will likely be a good resource for assisting with your mom’s unique needs.

Assisted Living for Adults with Vision Loss

One final suggestion is to consider helping your mom transition to an assisted living community while she still has some of her vision. Though most people with macular degeneration don’t experience complete vision loss, it will be more challenging to move to a new environment with severe vision loss. Getting relocated and settled in before that happens is a definite advantage.

Other benefits of assisted living for adults with vision problems include transportation services, housekeeping and laundry, medication management, and healthy meals. We invite you to call one of our Heritage Senior Communities to learn more about how assisted living can help an older adult with vision loss remain more independent!

I hope this is helpful, Justine, and I wish you and your mom the best of luck!

Kind regards,

Donna

What Should I Ask on My First Call to an Assisted Living Community?

What Should I Ask on My First Call to an Assisted Living Community?

Dear Donna:

While my kids were home from college on holiday vacation, we visited my parents for the first time in over a year. I call and video chat with my parents several times a week, and they always tell me they are managing everything just fine. That’s why we were so shocked at what we found when we got to their house.

Both my mom and my dad have lost weight they didn’t need to lose. I checked their refrigerator and cupboards, and it’s obvious they are relying on frozen dinners and canned soups. Both parents are walking with canes they bought at the drugstore. My mom had bumps and bruises on her arms and legs, and my dad admitted that she’s had a few falls lately. That frightens me as I know how dangerous a fall can be for seniors.

The condition of their house was equally surprising. Their bedroom had a large pile of laundry waiting to be done. The floors badly needed to be vacuumed. The bathroom shower obviously hadn’t been cleaned in a while. My parents always kept their house and yard neat and tidy, so this was definitely not typical of them.

After a long discussion, they reluctantly told us keeping up the house has become a real struggle. They are both having a difficult time caring for their personal needs. My mom has been experiencing frequent falls and is afraid to get into the shower. While my dad is doing a little better physically than my mom, he seems to be having a tough time too. We all agreed it’s time for them to make a change. After some preliminary research online, it seems like assisted living might be a good solution.

My parents and I agreed that I would start calling assisted living communities near their house. We want to ask some initial questions to screen out places that don’t seem to be a good fit. I’ll fly back to town in a few weeks to take my parents to visit the assisted living communities that seem like good options. As I’m preparing my list of calls, I’m trying to figure out what to ask. I’m new to this process so I don’t really know how to get started.

Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Bonnie in Douglas, MI

Questions to Ask an Assisted Living Community

Dear Bonnie:

It sounds like you are on the right track! But the search for an assisted living community can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t familiar with senior housing options. Call communities in the area of town your parents would like to live in to learn more about them.

I do have a few suggestions for questions you’ll want to ask:

  • Availability: Since it sounds as if there is some urgency to transition your parents to a safer environment, it’s a good idea to ask about availability. Some of the best assisted living communities are full and have a waitlist. If there is a waitlist, inquire about how long it is expected to be before something opens up and what the process is to get on the list. You may be required to make a deposit and fill out an application.
  • Affordability: If your parents are like most people, they’ll have a budget. Try to get an idea of how much they can afford to pay for assisted living each month before you start calling. Keep in mind, there might be options for financing care. For example, if one of them was a veteran, they might qualify for some financial assistance. Or if they purchased long-term care insurance, the policy may include assisted living coverage. Some assisted living expenses might even be tax-deductible.
  • Other questions: Finally, on your initial screening call, think about factors that may impact whether your parents would consider a particular community. For example, if your mom and dad have a pet, will they be welcome? Another one might be transportation. Since it sounds like you live far from your parents, finding an assisted living community that has a transportation team or can make arrangements for getting to and from appointments might be important.

Once you’ve narrowed your list, the next step is to schedule in-person visits and assemble questions to ask. “Important Questions to Ask on an Assisted Living Tour” will be a good resource to review when you are ready to move forward in the process.

Good luck with your search! Please keep the Heritage Senior Communities in your area in mind as you make your calls.

Kind regards,

Donna

How Do I Start Downsizing My Dad’s Home During My Holiday Visit?

How Do I Start Downsizing My Dad’s Home During My Holiday Visit?

Dear Donna:

I’ll be in Michigan to visit my dad for a few weeks during the holidays. When I visited over the summer, we decided it was time for him to start preparing for a move. While we discussed downsizing to a condominium, we finally agreed that a senior living community might be better.

When I’m back next March, we plan to look for senior living communities that offer independent and assisted living. That way he can enjoy an independent living apartment while having peace of mind that help is available if and when he needs it.

Since my visit will be longer than usual over the holidays, my dad and I thought it might be a good idea to get started. We want to tackle some of the downsizing we’ll need to finish before he moves. He is still living in the large house that he and my mom raised all five of us children in. They weren’t always great about getting rid of things, and he’s been especially bad since she passed away two years ago. So, we have a big job ahead of us.

Do you have any suggestions for how I can get this process started? I don’t want to disrupt his house too much since he will likely be there until May or June. But I think I need to take advantage of the free time we’ll have when I’m in town.

Sincerely,

Lisa (and my dad, Steve) in Sutton’s Bay, MI

Downsizing a Senior’s Home & Preparing for a Move to Senior Living

Dear Lisa and Steve:

It sounds like you have a solid timeline for your anticipated move, so you are off to a good start! Downsizing is one of the biggest challenges families face, especially for older adults who’ve lived in their house for many years.

Here are a few tips that might give you a head start on moving without being too disruptive for the remainder of the winter and spring:

  • Start in the rooms least often used: Since you mentioned five kids grew up in your parents’ house, I’m betting there is a lot of childhood memorabilia left behind. It might be good to begin your clean-up efforts in rooms storing these items. It’s usually a good idea to set up different boxes and label them by their ultimate destination. For example, “Charity,” “Family,” or “Other.” You’ll likely need some big trash bags, too. As you make your way through each room, toss items into these boxes or the trash. This is a good system to help you work your way through every room.
  • Make decisions about furniture: Most independent living apartments are smaller than a senior’s current home. I’m sure that will be the case for your dad since he’s coming from a big house. It might be a good time to walk through the house and think about what furniture will move with him and what will need to find a new owner. If he has valuable antiques, it might be worthwhile to host an estate sale or to try to sell them online. You can also find out what charities nearby might arrange to pick up furniture and other large household items he will no longer need.
  • Consider hiring a senior move manager: Because it sounds like you live far from your father, one more suggestion is to hire a senior move manager. These professionals help handle all of the details of a transition to a senior living community from assisting with the packing process to hiring the movers. They could keep the downsizing process moving during the winter when you won’t be there.

Finally, one more resource you might find helpful is “10 Tips for Downsizing and Moving a Senior Loved One.”

Kind regards,

Donna

Visit a Heritage Community in Michigan During the Holidays

The holidays are a great time to schedule a tour of a senior living community. The hustle and bustle of the season combined with the festive decorations make these communities feel especially inviting. We extend an open invitation to families to call a Heritage community and set up a time to stop by!

How Can I Enjoy the Holidays When I’m Busy Caregiving?

How Can I Enjoy the Holidays When I’m Busy Caregiving?

Dear Donna:

I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for over four years. Every year during the holidays, my normal caregiving stress significantly increases. My family always looks forward to the season, but now I dread it. I just can’t seem to find a way to enjoy myself without worrying about my mom.

Do you have any suggestions that can help me better navigate caregiving and holidays?

Sincerely,

Sam in Saginaw, MI

Holiday Survival Tips for Caregivers

Dear Sam:

You aren’t alone. We often hear this from family caregivers. The joys of the holiday season typically come with a whirlwind of activity. From attending the kids’ and grandkids’ seasonal events to baking pumpkin roll for the family potluck, your holiday to-do list might seem never-ending. When you add the responsibilities of caring for a senior loved one to the list, this festive time of year can easily become overwhelming.

Here are a few holiday survival tips you might find useful this year:

  • Identify your biggest stressors.

Start by trying to pin down the activities or tasks that are causing you to experience the most anxiety. For family caregivers, there can be a wide range of causes, including:

  • Worrying that your loved one will feel left out if you attend holiday gatherings without them
  • Struggling to find enough time in your schedule to complete traditional holiday tasks
  • Feeling as if you are neglecting your own family’s needs or desires in favor of caregiving duties

Once you’ve identified your sources of stress, it’s easier to find solutions.

  • Reset your expectations.

Caregivers are often reluctant to ask for help. Many believe no one will care for a loved one like they can. During the holiday season, when the demands on everyone’s time are greater than usual, a caregiver is more likely to experience overload or burnout. Give yourself permission to not only seek outside help in caring for your mom, but to also scale back holiday traditions.

Accept only those invitations that mean the most. Decline requests that require time you don’t have to give, such as baking for the church bake sale or helping the garden club decorate for the holiday parade.

If you don’t have anyone who can help with your mom’s care, consider a few days or a week of respite services at a local assisted living community. That can give you an opportunity to handle holiday tasks, such as shopping and baking, while also attending or hosting seasonal gatherings.

  • Remember your happiness matters, too.

Caregivers often put their own well-being low on the list of priorities. They may skip meals or rely on fast foods instead of taking time to plan healthy menus. Exercise and sleep might also be sacrificed. Caregivers may decline party and event invitations they would love to accept. While it may seem like a luxury, it’s also important to make your personal happiness a priority.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Sam. If you decide to explore respite care, I hope you will consider one of the Heritage Senior Communities. Call the location nearest you to learn more!

Kind regards,

Donna

How to Make the Most Out of a Virtual Doctor’s Appointment

How to Make the Most Out of a Virtual Doctor’s Appointment

Getting to and from physician appointments can be tough for seniors who have given up or limited their driving, especially those who reside in rural areas that lack public transportation. If adult children live far away or work during the day, the situation can be even more complicated. For some seniors, not having easy, affordable access to transportation is a barrier to obtaining regular, quality health care.

Virtual physician visits, sometimes known as telemedicine, might be a solution to explore. The technology has gotten better and easier to use. Medicare and many insurance companies even cover some e-visit expenses and telehealth services. If you are a senior or a family caregiver, here’s what you should know about connecting with a physician virtually.

Advantages of Virtual Doctor’s Appointments

  • Fewer distractions for your physician: Doctors’ offices are very busy places, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most employers, physician offices struggle to maintain full staffing. Patients often say their doctor gets interrupted during the appointment, and that they don’t feel as if they have the physician’s full attention. When it comes to virtual appointments, however, some patients say they have found their doctor to be more attentive and focused.
  • No sitting around waiting: If you’ve been to a physician’s office in the last few years, you’ve probably spent more time in the waiting room than you did in the exam room. It can be stressful and a little aggravating. When you schedule a virtual physician visit, your home becomes your waiting room. You can fold laundry, do the dishes, or just relax and read a book until the doctor comes on the screen.
  • Safety from viruses: Another benefit of not being stuck in a waiting room is you avoid exposure to other patients’ germs. Infections and viruses can be hard for older adults, especially those with a weakened immune system, to fight off. Meeting with your physician online eliminates the risk of catching a bug in the doctor’s office.
  • Access to specialists: Patients who have a chronic health condition or life-limiting illness often want a second opinion to make certain their treatment plan allows for the best possible outcome. Accessing specialists used to take a long time in many areas of the country, and was difficult to arrange for people in rural communities with fewer physicians. Through the magic of technology, a patient in Maine can now meet with a specialist in California without ever leaving home.

Is a Virtual Visit a Good Option for You or a Senior Family Member?

Before you schedule your first virtual appointment, there are a few questions to ask the staff at your physician’s office to make sure this option is a good fit:

  • Is the technology easy to set up and use?
  • Is the senior’s internet fast enough?
  • If you run into problems, who is available to help?
  • Will your senior loved one’s insurance or Medicare cover a virtual visit? If not, how much will it cost? Do virtual visits have co-pays if they are covered?

There is another option to consider when transportation becomes challenging for an older adult: a move to a senior living community.

Transportation Is a Popular Service at Heritage

One of the most popular services at Heritage Senior Communities is transportation. Community staff makes arrangements to get residents to and from physician appointments, shopping centers, and more. Call the community nearest you to learn more today!

Cybersecurity: How to Keep a Senior Safe Online

Cybersecurity: How to Keep a Senior Safe Online

If you think the incidences of hacking and online scams are on the rise, you are correct. Experts project cybercrimes will cost the world an estimated $10.5 trillion a year by 2025. But it’s not just big corporations and small businesses that are being targeted.

From Facebook accounts to personal email, people are falling victim to hacking and online fraud every day. It’s a frustrating and frightening ordeal to recover from. For older people who might not be as tech-savvy as younger generations, it’s even easier to be caught up in one of these scams.

We have some suggestions you can share to keep seniors in your life safe online.

Tips to Keep a Senior Safe Online

  • Use strong passwords: If it seems like every one of your older Facebook friends has had their account hacked, often multiple times, you might be right. Seniors may be more susceptible because some aren’t aware of how important it is to create strong passwords. Those that contain at least eight characters and are a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters are best. Another tip is not to use your name, loved ones’ names, your address, the name of a pet, or other easily identifiable information. Those are the words potential hackers try first.
  • Password protect home Wi-Fi: You’ve likely noticed Wi-Fi accounts that aren’t password protected in your neighborhood when logging into your own. Having an unprotected network makes private information vulnerable. Even people with minimal technology skills can access a network from a car parked outside the home. So, check to be sure your senior’s Wi-Fi network has a strong password.
  • Stick to secure websites: More people than ever have discovered how easy online shopping can be. What many aren’t aware of is the importance of shopping only on security-enabled sites. Websites that begin with https:// are usually the safest. The “s” means the user’s data is encrypted as it is being transmitted. Never enter financial or personal information on a site that lacks the “s.” If you or a senior loved one has any doubts about a site, do a quick Google search for reviews or complaints about the company.
  • Use social media carefully: Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites are popular online destinations for everyone, including older adults. While they can be a fun avenue for staying in touch with friends and family, there are precautions to be aware of. One is to make sure loved ones know how to enable privacy settings. It’s usually best to keep accounts private so only friends can see your posts. Also, encourage your senior family members not to accept friend requests from people they don’t know offline.
  • Click with caution: Receiving an email from a sender you don’t know or a mailing list you never signed up for can be a warning sign of a scam. It’s usually best to delete this type of email without opening it. It might contain a virus. Caution your family members to be especially wary of emails with subject lines promoting anything for “free” or claiming they’ve won a sweepstakes prize. Phishing emails are another concern. They often look like they are from your bank or another financial institution. These types of emails usually contain a link that asks you to update information related to your account. If you click the link, it can give the scammer what they need to steal a person’s identity or financial information.

We hope these tips help you and the older adults in your life stay safe while spending time online. If you suspect a senior loved one has been the victim of a scam that they haven’t told you about, this article will help you learn more.

Bookmark the Heritage Blog

If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to bookmark the Heritage Blog and visit often. Each week, we share new information on topics ranging from healthy aging to caregiving for an adult with dementia.