The Dynamics of Being a Long-Distance Caregiver

The definition of a long-distance caregiver is one who provides care for an elder who lives at least an hour away. In today’s society, it has become fairly common for grown children to leave home to pursue different lifestyles and work opportunities resulting in being scattered geographically. As a result of all this movement, a growing number of adult sons and daughters are discovering just how hard it is to try to ensure the welfare of aging parents who live hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away.

When you live many miles away from your loved one(s) the separation can complicate care giving. Concerns about the person’s safety, nutrition and health can be overwhelming at times. The task can be difficult, stressful, and time consuming.

Long-distance care giving can take many forms -from helping manage the money to arranging for in-home care; from providing respite care for a primary caregiver to helping a parent move to a new home or facility. Many long-distance caregivers act as information coordinators, helping aging parents understand the confusing maze of home health aides, insurance benefits, and durable medical equipment.

The number of Americans age 55 and older will almost double between now and 2030 – from 60 million today (21 percent of the total US population) to 107.6 million (31 percent of the population) – as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Because our society is aging, elder care has become a growing area of interest when it comes to providing medical and other services for our rapidly growing, aging population. It’s not uncommon anymore for the adult children to be in their mid to late 70’s and still have their parents who are in their 90’s, to care for or assist them in some way. Adults 55 – 65 are dealing with their own ‘maturing’ coupled with the fact their parents are now in their mid 70’s.

Texans are aging too. It’s project that by 2040 Texans 60-plus will total 8.1 million, a 193 percent increase from 2000. By 2040, the 60-plus population is projected to comprise 23 percent of the total Texas population. According to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, the 60-plus Texas population will itself grow older. In 2000, the 85-plus population totaled over 237,000; by 2040, this population is projected to reach about 831,000, a 249.4 percent increase. With aging comes a greater need for home care services, senior living communities, respite for the thousands of caregivers trying to work and care for an elder loved one.

On a personal note…I’m in my mid 50’s as is my husband, our parent’s are late 70’s, and my grandmother is now 92. My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s but is still living at home with his wife caring for him. At some point soon, this will be changing, and we are talking, discussing and preparing. Two and three generations still living is not uncommon today.

Given the choice, most elders would prefer to continue to live in their own homes known as “aging in place”. Unfortunately the majority of elderly people gradually lose functioning ability and require either additional assistance in the home or a move to an eldercare facility. The adult children of these elders often face a difficult challenge in helping their parents make the right choices especially if they live a distance away.

This is why understanding what elder care is, and what it involves, is so important. Talk, discuss, learn what services and elder care options are available in the community BEFORE a situation arises. Elder care is so broad based. It encompasses a wide variety of issues, including choosing an appropriate physician to care for an aging patient, and making decisions about moving an elderly person from the home environment to a residential care setting.

Elder care also refers to an array of care services such as adult day service, assisted living facilities, hospice care, skilled nursing facilities, home health care and specialized care services such as geriatric care management. There are two types of in home care: Medical (skilled care) and Non-Medical (social care).

In home elder care includes a wide range of services that are provided over an extended period of time to people who need help to perform normal activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and bathing because of cognitive impairment or loss of muscular strength or control. They may also need assistance with meal planning and preparation, laundry, obtaining medical care, paying their bills paid, transportation to and from their doctor appointments as well as to the grocery store.

Medical elder care can include rehabilitative therapies, skilled nursing care, palliative care, and social services, as well as supervision and a wide range of supportive personal care provided by family caregivers and/or home health care agencies. Elder care can be long-term or short-term depending on the needs and situation.

Elder care can include modifying ones home to make it safer and easier to remaining living there. Adaptations can include features that make it easier and safer to manage activities of daily living such as bathing, cooking, and stair climbing. Alterations to the physical structure of the home can improve its overall safety and condition. Examples include installing grab bars and transfer benches in bathrooms, ramps, and handrails for home access. There are also ways today to convert the standard step-in bath tub, which can become a safety hazard, to a new walk-in type bath tub. Older adults may tend not to bath as often as they should for fear of falling. These type of home modifications can make a big difference in making your loved ones home safer.

Elder care also include setting your loved one up with a medical emergency alert systems. By doing so everyone is given peace of mind in knowing that if needed, emergency assistance is available at the push of a button. It’s also a good idea to get the names and phone numbers of your elder loves ones next door neighbor or close friend. In the event you can’t them by phone you can contact this person and ask them go over and check on them for you, notify you and the authorities should they find something not right. Be sure they have your contact numbers too.

Aging is like taxes. It’s guaranteed so it’s always best to be as knowledgeable and prepared as one can, so when the time does arise, better more informed decisions are made. ‘Knowledge is Freedom: hide it, and it withers; share it, and it blooms’ (P. Hill)

Contributor: Cheryl Culbertson, Founder, Elder Options of Texas, an online site for finding Texas senior services and elder care resources for adults 55+ and their elder loved ones.

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