Life in today’s America commonly finds families strewn across states and even scattered from one end of the continent to the other. With so many families now separated by hundreds and often thousands of miles, it may be extremely difficult to handle caring for older parents who live far away.
When a parent is in need of help and support, it can be emotionally upsetting to feel you are unable to provide as much help as you want and need for your parent(s).
There are ways to alleviate the stress this situation may cause and the first step is to be prepared. All too often, the majority of stress is due to an unexpected event. It can often catch you unaware when an elder parent needs your help. To avoid this problem, you will need to educate yourself on the options available should the need arise. One source of information could be Eldercare Locator Services (800-677-1116). They can tell you what services are available in the area where your parent(s) lives.
Another important step is to utilize the knowledgeable assistance of a professional to help in the following areas:
- Budgeting your parents’ finances, including their Social Security income and whatever investments they possess.
- Helping with their income taxes.
- Determining how much money you can afford to spend in aiding your parents.
You will need to have at your hands the following: Information about your parents’ lawyer, accountant, banker, insurance professional, as well as all legal documents, wills, Social Security numbers, and investment portfolios.
Once you know where to turn for help, you need to gather and organize other important information about your parent(s). Divide this information into five categories:
- General assessment—Notes on the current condition of your parent(s).
- Medical—Information regarding your parent(s)’ doctors, medications taken, and insurance policies.
- Local support services—Agencies located near your parent(s) that provide support.
- Informal support system—Neighbors or friends who are willing and able to help.
- Travel—You’ll need to organize your visits to your parent(s) and coordinate them with other family members who may also be assisting your parent(s).
Employers may also be of help. Some companies offer resource and referral services for the care of the elderly. Many employers also provide employee-assistance programs. There are also counseling programs available at low or no fees.
Once you have yourself and other participating family members organized, you need to come to an agreement on the division of labor (who will help, how, and when) and how and when to approach your parent(s) about your plan of action. If your parent(s) is mentally competent, you should be able to talk things through and honor his or her preferences. If your parent(s) is dealing with a mental or emotional deficiency, you will need to be the one to take the lead in how to deal with the situation.
In summary, remember there are many things to consider: Your parent(s)’ health, emotional and financial situation; the variety of sources of information to call upon (special agencies, doctors, libraries); and the many avenues of help available (doctors, friends, relatives, minister/rabbi/priest, and special agencies).
Don’t put it off until tomorrow; planning now can help ease a particularly stressful time of life and make the transition from adult child to caregiver a smoother one.