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10 ways to help elderly parents from a distance

Posted on 18/03/2014

It’s not uncommon to live away from our parents these days, in different counties, or even different countries. With long working hours, family demands and busy social lives, it can be hard to visit as much as you would like, with long periods of time spent together being limited to holidays and occasions.

It is often during these holidays or occasions that you might start to notice that your parents are starting to find day-to-day tasks a little harder to cope with, and they may need some extra help. It’s normal to worry about them and also to feel guilty that you don’t live closer to help them out yourself.

There are plenty of things that you can do from afar that will help your ageing parents to get the care and support that they need, keep them busy and stay in touch to help prevent loneliness and isolation.

Here are 10 ways that you can help your elderly parents when you don’t live nearby:

Make local contacts

If you have friends who live nearer to your parents than you do, then ask them if they would be willing to check in on your parents if you are worried. This doesn’t have to be a regular thing, but it could put your mind at ease if, for example, you haven’t heard from your parents for a while, or you have trouble contacting them. If you don’t know anyone, then next time you are home, have a chat with neighbours and give them your phone number so that you can be contacted if they notice anything wrong.

Hire a paid carer

If your parents want to stay at home, but need some daily help, then you could hire them a paid carer. This could be someone who comes in once a day to help with certain tasks, as well as provide company. By hiring them yourself, rather than through an agency, you can dictate how long they spend with your parents, what they do when they are with them and even make sure that they send you a report on how your parents are after a visit.

Find out more about hiring a paid carer

Build a network

You don’t have to care for your parents alone. If you have siblings or other family members, then make sure that they also help out. This will give your parents lots of people to turn to if they need some help and it takes the pressure off you to provide everything they need. You can also get in contact with local support groups and even their GP, and strike up a relationship to ensure that they can help out when needed.

Phone regularly

Set up a regular phone call schedule so that your parents know when they are going to hear from you. This might be once a week at first, increasing to once a day when needed. If you have a single parent left alone, they might need more contact. By giving them a time and day, it gives them something to look forward to. Practically, if they are wary of people calling, they will know when it is you to pick up the phone.

Set up Skype

Skype is a great way of keeping in touch. It is free between supported devices on a network, so set your parents up with a computer or tablet and an internet connection to get started. Set up a shortcut in an obvious location so that they can find Skype easily, show them how to use it and put all their contacts in there for them.

Use technology

There are plenty of telecare products out there that you can install in your parents’ home so that you have peace of mind when you are now available. There are simple call systems that your parents can use to send an alert that they are in trouble and need help. There are also motion sensor alarms that you could use, for example, to detect someone leaving the house at night.

Find out more about telecare and telehealth services

Managing affairs

There may come a time when you will need to manage more of your parents’ affairs, such as their property or their finances. Make sure that you are prepared for this well in advance by asking them to consider setting up a lasting power of attorney, which gives you permission to make decisions on their behalf with regards to health and welfare and/or property and financial issues. This needs to be done before their health declines. There may come a time when you have to move your parents into residential care, and at that point you will need to decide what to do with their property.

More information on things that you need to consider when planning care and support for parents

Plan visits regularly

You can’t always visit as much as you would like, but before you finish a visit, make sure that you have plans for your next one. Even if it is quite a few months before you can visit your parents again, it can be a great help if they have something in the calendar for the future so that they have something to look forward to.  

Find local services

Help your parents to get out and about by looking into local community services and groups. You can see if there is a Shopmobility service, for example, which would help your parents to do their own shopping. There might be transport groups that take people on day trips, or hobbyist groups where your parents can learn new skills and make new friends.

Let them have their independence

While you might be worried about your parents and know that they need help, they are still your parents and you need to respect their wishes. Work with them and their needs so that they don’t feel ‘trapped’ or ‘smothered’, and let them get on with their own lives. As long as you have a process in place in case anything happens and they know how to get in touch with you, then try not to worry too much. You can review their situation each time you visit and amend your care plan as needed. 

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