Can This Work from a Distance?
Although this may not be the ideal situation now, there are probably many reasons how and why you find yourself a significant distance from your aging parents or in-laws. Careers, education, and family commitments take children in different directions from their parents. At retirement, your parents may have moved away from you. Now years later, you are facing the situation of becoming a caregiver from a distance.
This is not impossible, but it does require commitment, organization, patience, and a great deal of creativity. For one thing, it isn't easy to assess a situation from a distance. Can you get a true reading on what is actually happening to your father? Is he becoming confused and forgetful, or do his neighbors actually dislike him enough to taunt him and steal his mail and newspapers?
You may need to visit to get a real handle on the situation. However, this may be just the first of many such situations, and you will need to learn how to determine which of the battles needs your attention and which you can let slide. You can't go running there each time there is a problem, and yet you need to be able to prevent a crisis. Sometimes a sibling or even your spouse or children may be able to be more objective and assist with these issues.
Keeping in mind that your parents probably don't want to leave their home and move closer to you, and they may be better off to remain in their own home as long as possible, you are going to have to set some plans in motion to make that happen.
The same arrangements you would make for them if they lived nearby can be made for your parents from a distance — it's just going to take a little more organization and effort on your part. Finding resources and managing the situation from a different time zone will take some thought and planning.
Perhaps you can begin this process best by visiting your parents and getting a firsthand view of the big picture. You can also begin to gather information, resources, and contacts to help you in the future as they demand more care and assistance.
In the past, you may have visited your parents and paid little attention to their neighbors or their community as a whole. This time you need to explore and scope out the town. If you can't afford time off from work, perhaps a long weekend will work. Have a set plan for the things you need to visit or at least see where they are in relation to your parents' home. Take a tour of the city and find these places.
Some of the places you need to see include their PCP's office, dentist's office, and offices of other members of their health-care team, plus the local hospital, senior center, pharmacy, bank, and grocery stores, as well as their favorite places to shop and eat.
Think about their daily life and activities: Who cuts their hair? Where do they buy gas? How do they get their car repaired? Where's the local movie theater, golf course, bowling alley? Do they have a gardener or a handyman? Who shovels the snow? Where do they get their mail? How is the trash handled? Try to meet some of their friends and especially any neighbors who could keep an eye on things for you if you need them.
Gather business cards and make a list of addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for all of these people and places. Put them all into a separate address book or database of information about your parents for future reference. Pick up a copy of the local phone book from the phone company, and get copies of local newspapers. Take these items home with you.
As you tour the city, you may want to take pictures of the offices and locations of your parents' favorite hangouts. Having a visual reference can sometimes help you discern fact versus confusion from a distance. It can also help you later if you have to get a neighbor or friend to find a place for you. If you can tell them it's a three-story brick building next to a gas station or across the street from a certain park, they may be more willing to assist you than if you send them on a task to find someplace they've never been before.
Make Some Observations
While you're visiting your parents, stand back and objectively watch how they function. Are they still able to drive safely? Can your father see well at night? Does your mother need someone to remind her to take her medications? Do they leave the stove on? Is there adequate food in the pantry and refrigerator, and is it appropriate for any special dietary needs they have? Check for home-safety factors such as throw rugs, clutter, and grab bars. When they pay for things are they mindful of their purse or wallet as well as money and credit cards? Can they figure out the tip and total at a restaurant easily?
This may be a difficult process for you; it's not easy to observe and admit that your parents are getting older and are no longer as strong, capable, and confident as they once were. Recognizing their strengths and weaknesses now, however, can help keep them as safe and independent as possible. Accentuate the positive, but don't get lost in denial.