Artful Aging

The Virtual Family Caregiver

Today’s families are often separated by great distances. This is often true for the adult children who call the greater Seattle area home. They may have moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a career, and ended up staying here to raise their own family. Then an aging parent who lives a few states away begins to experience changes in their health or suffers a medical crisis.

The demands of caring for the physical needs of someone who was once your caretaker can be tough enough. Distance makes the role even more challenging.

Research from the National Institutes on Aging revealed that seven million people in this country provide care to an aging loved one long distance. It is a balancing act that requires juggling the needs of your own family with traveling to provide support to a faraway parent.

But there is good news for today’s virtual caregiver. Technology has made it much easier to monitor and provide support to an aging loved one long distance.

Virtual Caregiving Technology for Long Distance Caregivers

When you are an adult child trying to care for an older loved one from another city, being able to talk with them “face-to-face” brings peace of mind. It provides you with an opportunity to assess their appearance to see how well they are managing on their own.

Another concern many long distance caregivers express is how difficult it can be to help a parent stay on track with their medication schedule. And doing so is vital. It can prevent an older adult from making a serious medication error that lands them in the hospital.

If you are caring for a loved one long distance, here are a few solutions to consider:

  • Video Chat: Face-to-face communication allows you to take a look at your older loved one. Do they appear more disheveled than you are used to? Is their face thinner or fuller which might indicate unintended weight loss or weight gain? Is their face flushed like they might have a fever? Do they look a little down? Skype is a free video chat service you can use to stay connected. If your parent has a tablet device, it is especially easy to use.
  • Tele-Health: There are a variety of tele-monitoring services that families can utilize. Some are offered strictly through home health providers under a physician’s supervision. Others are sold and monitored by home security or dedicated senior technology companies. Most of these services use wireless technology to monitor an older adult’s location and condition throughout the day and night.
  • Smart House: While this is an option some older adults might feel is too “big brother,” a smart house system can keep them safe. Sensors are placed discretely throughout their home. They relay information back to a base unit. For example, if the home’s occupant gets up, heads to the bathroom and then never goes any further, an adult child can detect that by checking their activity. And the smart house system will alert family members if there is a change in daily routine like this one. The technology allows long-distance caregivers to keep tabs on an older loved one around the clock.
  • Medication Management: Technology has also made medication management easier and safer. While a traditional pill box might work for some older adults, more sophisticated systems are also available. Some flash a light or send an audible alert at medication time. Others will even text an adult child to let them know if a dosage has been missed.

Put Together a Back-Up Plan

Our last tip for long distance caregivers is to create a back-up plan. If your loved one has an emergency or if you experience a crisis of your own that prevents you from assisting them, a back-up plan will be important.

It might be a neighbor who stays with them until a home care agency you’ve pre-screened can arrive. Or finding a senior living community you feel confident in that can accommodate short-term respite guests. The goal is to take a pro-active approach to planning before a crisis occurs.

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