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Long-Distance Caregiving for Aging Parents

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
9 minute readLast updated February 25, 2024

Caring for loved ones from a distance poses unique challenges. Whether you’re making an effort to stay up to date on your aging parent’s well-being or talking to them about the next steps for their care, it can be difficult to know if your efforts are truly helpful. Learn how to use your resources, prepare for emergencies, and help ensure your loved ones have the support they need, even when you’re miles away.

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How to provide long-distance support to elderly parents

With more young adults moving away from their hometowns and seniors choosing warmer, stress-free places for retirement, families are more spread out than before. However, when your parents start showing signs of struggling with self-care or managing daily tasks, the responsibility of ensuring their safety and well-being often falls on your shoulders as a long-distance caregiver.
Your loved ones’ well-being depends on their ability to care for themselves. If they’re independent and socially active, a weekly phone call and occasional visits might suffice. But if they live alone and have medical issues, you’ll need a solid checklist like the one below to determine the appropriate next steps in their care.

Identify your loved ones’ needs

By asking the following questions, you can get a better understanding of what kind of care or assistance your aging parents need:
  • Do your parents currently need skilled medical help, like in-home nursing care?
  • Do they need help with daily personal care?
  • Do they need transportation to doctors and other appointments?
  • Do they need home modifications, such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars?
  • Do they need help with household chores such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning?
  • Do they need legal assistance or help with money matters?
  • Do they need opportunities to socialize with others?

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Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

How to help elderly parents from a distance

Taking care of your aging parents as a long-distance caregiver comes with its set of unique challenges. Here are some actionable long-distance caregiving tips to make the situation better for both you and your loved ones:
  1. Leverage local support: Reach out to nearby relatives or friends who can check on your parents regularly. Whether it’s the neighbor downstairs or a nephew across town, having someone local can provide added peace of mind.
  2. Engage with local places of worship: Places of worship often have community support systems. A local clergyman or a member of your parent’s church group might be available for regular visits to provide spiritual and social support.
  3. Combat loneliness through community: Encourage your parents to join local senior centers or engage in community activities. It’s a great way for them to socialize, especially if they’ve recently faced the loss of a close friend or spouse.
  4. Hire professional help: If your parents have ongoing medical conditions or mobility issues, consider hiring a part-time in-home health aide. Home health aides can ensure your loved one takes their medications correctly, monitor any medical issues, and help keep the home a safe living environment.
  5. Explore community resources: There’s a wealth of resources available in most communities, such as Meals on Wheels or even adult day care programs. You can use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator to easily find these services anywhere in the country.
  6. Stay informed: Regularly communicate with any local support you’ve arranged, and keep yourself updated on your parent’s health and well-being. Technology can bridge the distance, making long-distance caregiving much more manageable.
By applying these tips, you can create a supportive environment for your elderly parents, ensuring their safety and comfort despite the distance.

When to choose long-term care

If health problems are causing frequent trips to the emergency room, or if your loved ones are showing signs of increased disorientation, depression, or an inability to care for themselves, it may be time to seek options outside the home. There are numerous long-term senior care alternatives available that can continue to provide your parents with the best care possible.
Here is a brief checklist to help you decide if it’s time to switch from long-distance caregiving to long-term professional care.
  • Are your parents eating properly? Often, seniors stop cooking, lose interest in eating, and even miss meals completely.
  • Are they taking medications as prescribed? Missed doses or overdosing can result in health concerns and even hospitalizations.
  • Are their finances in order? Are bills being paid on time, and are important papers organized?
  • Is the home being maintained? Is the house neat and clean? Are clothes and dishes being washed? Are needed repairs being done? Other signs of trouble include unmown lawns, piles of unopened mail, and accumulating trash.
  • Are they taking care of their appearance? If they wear the same clothes every day or don’t maintain their personal hygiene, it could mean that they’re losing the ability to take care of themselves.
  • Is driving becoming a problem? If they can’t drive safely, are they within walking distance of food stores? Do they have transportation to doctors’ offices and other support services?
  • Is mobility decreasing? If walking is becoming a problem, your loved ones will be increasingly dependent on others to help them with everyday tasks.
  • Are they becoming a danger to themselves? Are they leaving the stove on, cigarettes burning, or doors open or unlocked? These could be signs of dementia, which could pose serious safety issues, especially as long-distance caregiving for dementia patients isn’t recommended.
  • Are they becoming reclusive? Reluctance to leave the house, sleeping during the day, and showing disinterest in participating in social activities could all be signs of depression.
  • Have there been frequent trips to the hospital? Increased falls or injuries could be signs of mobility and gait problems, while dizziness or flare-ups of ongoing medical conditions could indicate problems with taking medication.

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Preparing for emergencies from a distance

Even if your parents are in good health, you should be prepared to react quickly in the event of an emergency. Take time to ensure the following authorizations, resources, and legal documents are set up and maintained well ahead of time to reduce headaches and confusion when an emergency occurs:
  • Copies of your loved ones’ medical records, including names of primary doctors
  • Power of attorney
  • Living will
  • Advance medical directives
  • Money put aside for emergency plane fare

Resources for long-distance caregivers

If your aging loved one needs more help with day-to-day living than you alone can provide, there are several resources you can turn to for support at the local level:
  • Geriatric care managers
  • Home care and companion services
  • Elder care attorneys
  • Personal emergency response devices and telephone hotlines
  • Government and private agency services to provide meals and transportation
  • Adult daycare and senior centers
  • Long-term assisted living and nursing facilities
Use the aforementioned U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator for exact agency and service locations in your loved one’s area.
Many long-distance caregivers enlist the aid of geriatric case managers to help with the ongoing medical and financial concerns associated with aging loved ones. These professional consultants act as medical, legal, and financial advocates for your parents when you can’t be there. This is also a popular option for aging parents who don’t want their children to be burdened with the difficult medical and financial details of their care in the later stages of life.
If you’re unsure which option is right for your loved one, contact our free-to-you Senior Care Advisors. These trained professionals can answer your questions and offer both home care and assisted living suggestions according to your parents’ location, budget, and needs. They can also advise on how to choose between in-home care, general assisted living, or memory care.


Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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