10 Tips for Family Caregivers - Caring for Parents Long Distance


10 Tips for Family Caregivers - Caring for Parents Long Distance

Kanc_Hwy_in_fall_2_mMy caregiving began while I was still working full time and my parents, in their mid to late 80’s, still lived in their own home in another state approximately two hours from my house. Being an only child, it was me, myself and I with the help of my husband and our college age kids.

These tips are from those years, which progressed from complete independence, to my mother being primary caregiver of my father, to me becoming the long distance caregiver for both of them. Hopefully you will find something here to help you in your caregiving journey.

A Cart. Not just any cart. The first cart I purchased was a Rubbermade commercial utility cart. I found it at a local restaurant supply store. It had handles on both ends, three shelves, large wheels and was made of a heavy weight plastic. Mom and Dad used it for everything. It was stable and could be pushed on carpet. When they unloaded the groceries, they pushed it to the back door, loaded it up and pushed it to the kitchen, then down the hall to the pantry, bathroom or bedroom, wherever stuff needed to go. When Mom did the laundry, she loaded the folded clean clothes, sheet and towels on, and off she went to put things away. It was stable and I never worried about her not using her cane while carrying something. My parents were more comfortable eating in the living room in their recliners, so Mom prepared trays, wheeled them to the living room on the cart, when they were done she put the trays on the cart and back to the kitchen she went. Her cane hooked right over the handle so it was always with her if she needed it.

Saturday vs. Sunday. For the longest time we visited on Sunday. After a year or so of fighting summer traffic on major highways, we switched to Saturday. Yes, I know, your Saturday. But we both (Hubby and I) found out that when we were working, having Sunday off before we started the work week put us in much better moods to face our jobs Monday morning. If we spent Saturday at home, then Sunday traveling and caring for Mom and Dad, for some reason it felt like we never got a day off. Flipping it around made travel so much easier and having Sunday to ourselves made it seem more like a weekend.

Laundry. See if there is a way (any way) to get the laundry on the first floor and not in the basement. My parents put the washer and dryer in a spare bedroom in one house they lived in (guests didn’t mind) and right in the kitchen in their last house. Yes it was a bit of an eyesore, but we got used to it. I’m sure the people who bought the house moved it right back into the basement, but I never worried about Mom and Dad carrying laundry up and down stairs.

Grocery Shopping. Get a cooler or some insulated bags and do your own grocery shopping when you accompany your parent. They can be so slow when you take them shopping. I was able to do my own shopping at the same time and even saved money. Then it was something I didn’t have to do on my day off.

The Unexpected Overnight Stay. I got caught with nothing with me once when during Thanksgiving my mother became unable to care for my father. The kids took Hubby home, but I was on my own for three days without clean clothes or my own medications. Therefore:

  • Always keep an overnight bag in the car and remember to transfer it if you take the “other” car.

  • Have a two- or three-day supply of your own meds on you at all times.

  • Have your own list of meds and your pharmacy’s number with you for emergencies.

  • Have a list of your work contacts and phone numbers with you. These days it can be as easy as remembering to have your work smart phone or laptop with you when you visit.

  • If you own a dog and travel with it, like we did, keep a supply of bowls, dog food, treats and a dog bed at your parent’s house. Your dog can supply a lot of comfort when you are sitting alone in your parent’s living room because you just took your loved one to the ER and they were admitted.

Stair Lift. Seriously consider getting a stair lift - yes it is a big expense but it is amazing how much it will enable your parents to do on their own and how long they will continue to maintain their independence. My father would take the Christmas decoration boxes in the basement and one at a time put them on the chair, send it up to my mother who would then send the chair back down to dad. No carrying of boxes up and down stairs.

Scooter. If your father is a “basement man”, consider a scooter for the basement. Although he, in my opinion, didn’t really need it, my father bought one and tooled around his basement from his train layout, to the workbench and back again doing all sorts of projects. It took less time and kept his feet from getting cold standing on the cement floor.

Telephone Numbers. Keep your own list of all your parent’s contacts including doctors, pharmacy, hospital, any agencies in the house, Meals on Wheels, friends and a local florist and their neighbors - even if you don’t know them. I tried calling my Mom one day and got a busy signal for hours. I finally called the next door neighbor who went over and checked. Mom apparently had forgotten to turn off the wireless phone when she was done using it.

Planning for The Future.

Get the transport chair before you think you might need it. It can sit in a closet or the garage for months, but the first time Mom or Dad is too tired, unsteady or confused to get to the bathroom or bedroom on their own, you/they will be glad you did.

If possible meet with an elder care attorney with your parents for estate planning. It was unfortunate that my father wasn’t open to planning this way. I think he was a very private man and felt it was nobody’s business but his. Once his dementia had progressed I was able to take Mom to a lawyer and with his guidance protected what we could. Again, I know it is a big expense, and a really touchy subject but it really helps. And the sooner the better. Years before you think you will need it!

Since I wound up practically living at my parent’s house after dad passed away while mom was in rehab for six weeks, I know how exhausting it is to pack up and ready a house to be sold. Granted I was doing it by myself with only two wonderful friends who took time off from work to assist me occasionally, but it still can take a very long time to pack, discard, give away and just plain clean out 80 plus years of stuff! It is physically and emotionally draining. If you can, see if you can help pare down the house before it falls to you alone to do it.

There you go, the only child’s version of helpful tips for long-distance caregiving of your parents. I hope some of it may be helpful.

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Your post was great, mom and I have already complete everything you talked except for Mom's house, which I am slowly trying to get ready to put on the house up for sale. My three brothers still work full time and I am the only retired so it's falls on my shoulders.