Extend your reach while caring from afar
It's called the "sandwich generation" -- adults who are raising kids and caring for their parents at the same time. Being sandwiched in the middle can be challenging. But when ailing parents live far away, the distance makes caring for them even more difficult.
A 2009 survey estimated that about 66 million Americans had served as an unpaid family caregiver in the past year. More than one-quarter of them lived more than 20 minutes away from the adult who needed care.
Even in situations where you can't drop in on ailing parents every day - or even every month - you can take steps to ensure that their needs are being met. Here's how:
- Join the team. Establish a relationship with your parents' health-care team. You'll need to get your parents' permission to get medical information about them, of course. Know the name of your parents' doctors, and make sure you're listed as a contact person during emergencies. Keep a notebook of the conditions your parents are being treated for and the medications and dosages they're taking.
- Call regularly. Set up a scheduled time for you to check in with each other. Have a plan in place for what you'll do if your parents don't answer or call you at the usual time. It's a good idea to have the contact information of their friends or other people in their lives, so you can call them if you're having trouble locating a parent.
- Set goals. If your parents have a chronic condition that could flare up into a crisis -- or steadily grow worse -- make a plan for what you'll do. Set short-term strategies for how to respond to their day-to-day questions and needs, and longer-term plans for what you'll do during an emergency or if their health declines to a point when they need a higher level of care.
- Ask questions. The more information you have, the better. Be sure to stay current on your parents' wishes: What factors are most important to them (independence, security, friends, a predictable schedule)? What things worry them the most (going to a nursing home, falling at night and not having help)? Are they happy with the level of help you're offering, or would they prefer more or less? How would they rate their current level of mental and physical health? Would they ever be willing to move closer to you?
Older adults' needs can change quickly, especially when they're ill. These steps will help ensure that you stay ready to handle both sudden shifts and gradual changes.
For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.