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Caring for parents long-distance: What you need to know

Moving your parent into a senior living or assisted living community represents a big step in both their life and your own. The move marks a new chapter, and you’ll want to be involved as much as possible in the transition process to ensure mom or dad is comfortable and happy in his or her new arrangement.

This isn’t a problem for children that live close to their parent’s new home, or in the same state. However, caregiving and visiting can become challenges for those who live hundreds of miles away or in a different part of the country, or even globe! This makes for a difficult situation: You want to help as much as you can, but physical and practical barriers may limit your involvement or otherwise become frustrating obstacles to deal with.

This is a reality many across the nation experience in caring for their elderly parents living hundreds of miles away. Some may even feel distressed or guilty when they can’t accomplish all they want to in providing proper assistance. Yet there are tips to keep in mind when stuck in such arrangements. Caring for your parent from a long distance may not be as hands-on as you want, but finding ways to contribute is easy and will mean a lot to your mom or dad. Here are some best practices to think about:

Communicate often and in different ways

While you may not be able to see your parent in person as often you’d like, modern technology offers the opportunity for interaction. If your parent has a smartphone (and in today’s world, more and more seniors do) then talking face to face is as easy as opening a videochat app. For instance, If you haven’t seen the apartment since move-in, you can ask your mom or dad to show you how they decorated. The videoconferencing ability of such apps is a big benefit for long-distance caregiving, as you not only hear, but also see—which is crucial.

Besides videochat apps, there are a number of other communication avenues to take advantage of. Plain ol’ telephone calls can serve the same function and purpose as videochats, and may even be preferred. Parents with a bit more tech savvy can engage through text, social media and email. Sharing the latest news story, photos from a vacation or a funny animal video can help both you and your parent feel closer despite the physical distance.

Plan visits from close relatives or friends

While you may not personally live nearby the community, it’s likely you may have siblings, other relatives or trustworthy friends in the area who can act as your ears and eyes from time to time. Planning for your parent’s retirement with immediate family doesn’t end with moving mom or dad into senior living – it continues by collaborating on a game plan for caregiving. If you can’t be there to physically check in now and then, it’s important to talk with others who can.

Coordinating with family who may live within a reasonable driving distance can ensure somebody is always present. However, splitting up responsibilities is important, and making connections within your parent’s community can give you other options. Getting the contact information of a neighbor or community pal can help you cover all the bases in caring for your parent from a distance.

Do what you can, but don’t stress about the rest

In the end, when you’re miles away, there’s only so much that’s within your control. While you can still take time to plan visits out to the community, get together for the holidays or take your parent on vacation with you, there’s a limit to what can be done from a long distance. Accepting that these limitations exist is important in optimizing what care you can give.

For instance, talking on the phone is great, but calling every day might be overkill. Finding a happy medium with your parent regarding frequency of phone calls is a good idea to preserve your relationship and allow them to enjoy their life in the community at the same time. Guilt can be a major issue for many living far from their elderly parents—and while it’s an understandable side effect of being long distance, it doesn’t do anybody any good. As an adult you have your own life, family and job to care for as well. Stretching yourself too thin or feeling guilt over distance are pitfalls to avoid, as best as you can.

Being involved in your mom or dad’s retirement life is important, but can require some critical thinking when you’re situated states away. Keeping these tips in mind when strategizing with family or connecting with community staff can help gain you peace of mind that things are taken care of.

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