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?



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,