Are you worried about elderly or frail parents living a long way away?
Here are five more of Alison’s Contingency Planning tips for people who find themselves worrying about elderly parents living a long way away – although these are just as pertinent for anyone with elderly parents, even if they live next door.
This is the second part of our Caring at Distance Series.
Click here if you have missed Caring at a Distance – Part 1: Top Five Tips
6. Identify sources of practical help for the future
You can research this from a distance but nothing beats a face-to-face meeting to find out if someone is suitable to help your parents. You need to help your parents to create a list of local service providers such as gardeners, cleaners, home carers, personal assistants, and house maintenance experts simply so that they know who to turn to when they need it.
Ask for, and check, references. Organizations providing services to older people should be able to show that they have received a Disclosure and Barring Service certificate on each employee (this used to be called a Criminal Records Check CRB). It is not possible for self-employed people to ask for a DBS certificate on themselves but they can provide a certificate from the police called a Subject Access Check, which shows what information is available about them on the Police National Computer. Most importantly, establish a relationship with them so that even if you don’t need them right now they will know you and your parents and what your parents might need in the future.
Many health care and welfare crises can be avoided by getting a little bit of extra help before there is a big problem. Sometimes parents need a little persuasion to accept help but showing them how help now will enable them to keep control and live independently in their own home may assuage many of their fears.
7. Research technological aids
There is a vast array of technological innovations which can help keep a frail person safe in their own home – pendant alarms, automatic medication dispensers, temperature monitors, door sensors and web cams. Be respectful of your parent’s privacy and always ask their permission and get their freely given agreement to any kind of web-based monitoring. If a parent has dementia, don’t automatically assume that they don’t have the capacity or the right to make their own decisions about what level of surveillance they are subjected to and consider that it may be frightening for them to have a whole host of technological aids all at once. Start small, simply and gently.
8. Identify suitable care options
Remember that there are high quality care-at-home services available and that moving into care is not the only option. Do your research in advance.
If you think that a care home might be the right choice for a parent, research all the local facilities. You can do this one line but you have to visit the homes – if you really can’t get back to do this then ask a trusted family member or find a Senior Life Adviser who is experienced in undertaking care home research. Ask your parents’ Doctor for recommendations, check the Care Quality Commission reports – click here for more information.
Don’t be swayed by fancy websites and beautiful buildings with hotel style decor. Whilst the physical environment is very important for one’s well-being, the subject of choosing the right care home is vast and there are many other things to look for. A good starting point is finding a home with a cheerful, motivated and supported staff team and, above all, happy, fulfilled residents. Talk to residents and care staff without the owner or sales manager present. Ask to be put in touch with residents’ families.
9. Talk with your siblings
If you have siblings, particularly if they live closer to your parents than you, don’t forget that they might also be anxious about being left in the lurch because you live at a distance. Don’t be surprised if there is a bit of resentment because often they will not understand the worry and guilt you might feel leaving your parents behind.
It can be really hard for you to understand just how stressful and difficult it is for other family members to get on with their own lives when they are needed to support a parent because you are far away. They may think that you are the lucky one, leaving them to deal with all the practical issues and take the emotional flak for trying to help. It is an uncomfortable fact that some parents can be very unforgiving, demanding, unreasonable and ungrateful and play one child off against another. Some siblings aren’t very nice either!
So it is essential to talk calmly about how you will deal with any crisis or progressive need for assistance and to put any childhood rivalries to one side. Think creatively about how you can provide practical help and emotional support both to your parents and to your siblings. If a sibling is carrying the burden of everyday care, how can you make sure they can get a respite? Financial issues so often cause resentment and ill-feeling so offering money might be inflammatory, but perhaps working with them to organize respite care for a parent and providing a short holiday as a thank you to them might be acceptable. Never under-estimate the value of a phone call to ask how they are doing.
Sometimes it is better for everyone to have an independent professional to provide an objective assessment and help the entire family plan for the future. Such a person can provide an independent voice of reason and take the emotional heat out of the situation. It can be enormously beneficial in helping an older person to be realistic and ensuring that all members of the family get the support they need to enable them, in turn, to support their parent.
10. Communicate regularly and frequently
It is so easy to keep in touch and if your parents are not already on-line get them familiar with the basics of an ipad or other tablet computer even if it is just so that you can Skype them regularly and exchange emails.
Many children communicate quite infrequently when they are away so it is important to change that and schedule regular and frequent communications. Ideally this should be established when your parents are still fit and well as it sets a familiar routine which won’t need alteration if parent becomes frail or unwell, when they might find sudden and frequent communication intrusive.
Some people find it hard to chat on the phone. They feel awkward. If you are one of these, now is the time to learn the art of conversation! If you are struggling, get your parents to tell you about their lives before you were born bit by bit. Ask them to find old photographs to show you when you are next home. Get them to write their life story and read you bits every time you phone. Be creative. Unless your parent has a very macabre sense of humour, do anything to avoid the “just checking that you are still alive” phone call.
Be aware that often an older person will answer a phone call with variations of “I’m fine, darling” even if they are struggling or are unwell. Seasonal illnesses can push an older person from “just about managing” to “not managing at all” very quickly. Skype or other video communication at least means that you can see your parent and can be vigilant for signs of ill-health, weight loss etc.
At TimeFinders we understand that caring at a distance can cause great stress and anxiety and can have a detrimental impact on your career and your personal relationships. We know that planning ahead and putting a support network in place can allow you the peace of mind that you need to live your life at a distance from elderly and frail parents. For Part One of our Caring At a Distance article, click here.