Strategies for Caring from a Distance (Part 2)
by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, Director of Care Management
Last month we introduced the topic of long-distance caregiving and explored how to effectively help a loved one deal with the challenges of aging from afar. We examined the necessity of communication and planning and discussed essential tasks families can undertake to help organize care. This month, we’ll discuss the benefit of conversations about caregiving values and wishes and explore tasks for planning strategies to meet a loved one’s needs from a distance.
In the article, “Family-Social Tasks in Long Distance Caregiving,” authors Roff et al stress the importance of having conversations before an unanticipated crisis – this is especially important when family support is remote. Their set of tasks includes an adult child clarifying their own values about where the care of their parents fits with their other life responsibilities. Conversations should include siblings or other family members, like grandchildren, nieces, or nephews who may be called upon to provide varying degrees of support to the aging adult. A distant family member may be able to fulfill one need while a closer family member can provide another kind of support. These conversations help align expectations with the resources available.
Aging Life Care professionals provide regular assistance to families who find themselves geographically separated from their aging family members. Often, we help families have conversations about difficult topics and share thoughts and feelings that may have been previously unexpressed. Consider taking advantage of opportunities during visits to your aging family member to schedule a family conference to discuss planning for their care and utilize a facilitator such as a care manager who is familiar with the aging process, community resources, and the challenges families encounter providing care from a distance. Conversations that occur when there is no urgent need can lead to a general plan that can be modified when a crisis occurs.
Care managers know from experience that families worry less when there is a plan in place for the care of their loved ones. Family conferences can cover topics like emergency preparedness and the necessity of a lifeline-type service. Driving safety is another topic that can be addressed in advance. Talking about proactive measures like a driving evaluation or ceasing driving before the need presents involves the older adult in the discussion and helps prepare them for the eventual change. Another tough issue to discuss is determining when an aging loved one can no longer live independently. For family members caring from a distance, this can be especially hard as they may have to rely on information from others about their loved one’s status.
Becoming familiar with scales that measure function, called activities of daily living (ADLs) and independent activities of daily living (IADLs) can help family members monitor changes and communicate with others who can provide support. When there is concern about a parent’s ability to remain safely in their home, an independent assessment by a care manager can provide objective insight and recommendations. Regardless of the challenges that an aging adult encounters, families caring from a distance will benefit from the time invested in having conversations in advance about their own and their loved one’s values and wishes to support planning for the changes ahead.
Roff, Lucinda Lee, et al. “Family-Social Tasks in Long Distance Caregiving.” GCM Journal, 2003, pp. 30–35.