Susan’s mother had always been extremely independent, working as a school superintendent well into her 70's and living alone after the death of her husband over 20 years ago. Then it all changed in the space of just a few months. Her mother became forgetful, and at times would become disoriented. She had to step down from the job she loved, and it was not long before she could not safely live alone. Of her three children, two lived out of state, including Susan, and the son who lived closest declared himself incapable of providing support while Susan’s sister seemed overwhelmed at the prospect.
The above is a hypothetical and the people are fictional, but sadly, this is a common scenario. In the US, according to statistics provided by Merck, nearly 29% of older adults live alone, 70% of whom are women. In many cases, their children have moved away to establish their own lives and families, making it difficult to monitor emerging symptoms or issues. When those issues do become apparent, it is often as a result of a significant development such as a medical emergency or other incident that makes it clear the parent urgently needs assistance. Even when parents live together, a health crisis for one may be enough to make independent living no longer feasible.
If this situation describes you, know you’re not alone. According to recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 40.4 million unpaid caregivers of adults aged 65 and older in the U.S. alone, 13 million of whom are to provide that care from a distance. Even if you are not currently caring for an aging parent, you probably expect to at some point. A recent Pew Research Study found that nearly seven-in-ten adults in their 40's and 50's thought it was very or somewhat likely they would care for an elderly family member in the future.
Fortunately, wherever you may be on the caregiver spectrum, there are steps you can take to make it easier on yourself and your family. Know there is no one right way to care for a loved one from a distance. Each situation is unique and depends on a number of factors – care needs, resources, family dynamics, and how much or little your parent(s) can assist in the process. Before committing time and resources or rushing to a solution, do take the time to gather the information you need to make informed decisions and work on creating a family communication plan with any other siblings to make it easier to work together on care solutions.
In addition to all the logistics associated with developing a plan for caregiving, including identifying and accessing available resources, consideration will need to be given to the legal documents that may be needed such as powers of attorney, to help make those care decisions on behalf of your loved one. It’s never too early to contact an attorney knowledgeable in elder law and estate planning to ensure you and your family are prepared when the time comes. Providing long-distance care is never simple, but it can be easier if you anticipate those needs now.