Living Across the Country: How to Care for Your Aging Parents from Afar
When you graduate college, spread your wings, and fly from the nest, your thoughts are toward your future and building a life for yourself. As the years pass, there are fewer visits back home, as you now have children, and balancing work with parenting and all the other things that fill your day planner make it hard.
Before you know it, your parents have aged and are living the golden years of their life. Then your mom calls. It's about your father. He's had a stroke and is in the hospital. You take the first flight available and head home for the first time in several years.
This isn't the beginning of a Lifetime movie; in fact, it could resemble your current life, as it is a common situation where kids live far away from their parents. Not because of any lack of love, but because they are searching for a life they want to call their own. What do you do when faced with the fact that your parents need help, and your home and family are two thousand miles away?
While major health issues arise, it is the more subtle things we fail to notice, and when we talk to our parents on the phone, everything sounds fine. But how do we really know? What steps can you take today that will ensure you are prepared when your parents need your help the most?
The most important thing is to plan, and direct matters as much as you are capable and comfortable with. Beginning the discussion with your parents might be a bit sensitive, but in the long run it will save you and them stress and frustration down the road.
Talk to you parents about who they wish to have as a primary caregiver. If you have siblings, it is recommended that they are involved in the conversation as well. Find out what your parents’ wishes are with regards to needing care beyond what family can offer; for example, would they prefer to remain at home as long as possible and have an in-home caregiver?
If you have these conversations now, it will make the future a whole lot less uncertain. Once you have their desires recorded and noted, be sure you have it all in what is called an “advance directive," which basically states your parents’ wishes in a legal document. This will also serve as a caregiver's guideline in what needs to be done in case your parents are unable to communicate the information.
Whether you live across state lines or across the ocean away from your parents, you can still serve as their healthcare proxy. This is someone who will make all their healthcare decisions for them in the event that they become mentally or physically incapable of making those decisions. It is a critical role, because you never know what may happen: perhaps a stroke or heart attack may make it impossible for your parents to tell the doctors and nurses what kind of care they wish to receive.
Aside from legal paperwork and healthcare directives, caring for your parents from long distance can be as simple as doing some research on the best in-home caregivers or, if needed, assisted living facilities. Google searches, phone calls to doctors for references, and emails to friends and family about your findings are all various ways you can be a real contributor to helping your parents.
Often a sibling or other family member will take the role of primary caregiver, but who is watching out for that person? If you live too far to be there every day and care for your parents, you can offer support, love, and a listening ear to your loved one who is the primary caregiver. These people are often neglected, and, even with a part time in-home caregiver, the primary person is left with little time to themselves to maintain any kind of social life. You can be a saving grace to your family by supporting that person and letting them come to you with challenges, as well as progress on your parents’ well-being.
The cost associated with long distance can be expensive, especially if you have to take a plane to go visit your folks. Just like you planned healthcare with your parents before it was needed, you need to look at your own and your parents’ finances, and set up whatever accounts are necessary for the future. The worst thing would be for assets to be tied up in accounts where you cannot access them when needed to care for your parents.
Likewise, you own expenses need to be planned for as well. Children who take care of parents long distance tend to spend between $200-400 per month on traveling, food, medications, and other expenses out of their own pocket. That adds up to between $1200 and $4800 per year! Plan now, and save yourself the headaches later.
Though you may feel far away in miles, there are many meaningful and valuable things you can do to assist your aging parents to ensure they are cared for whether you are present or not. The two most important things are the conversations and planning ahead of time, and saving financially for their future as well as your own.