Long Distance Caregiving
When You Live Across the Country
It was the Saturday afternoon before Christmas in 1993. I was very excited because my brother was visiting for the holidays, and my Mom was coming soon. We hadn’t been together for the holidays since Dad died.
The mailman had just delivered the mail; there was a note from Mom. I thought she was sending me her flight times, but I was wrong. The note said she wasn’t coming, she was sick. Why she didn’t call, I don’t know.
I immediately picked up the phone and called her several times but got no answer. I began to panic. She had recently moved to a retirement community in Arizona, and I knew none of her friends and little about this illness.
I called every number I could think of, but no one could give me information. After numerous calls, someone said they thought Mom was in the hospital - but they didn’t know which one. That began another series of phone calls. Finally, one hospital said she was there but couldn’t say why - I didn’t have a health power of attorney.
My brother and I flew to Phoenix on Christmas Day to check on her. We were shocked to see her condition. She was indeed very ill, and we never knew.
Four factors may have played a role in the disconnect.
It was 1993; the Internet and text messages were relatively new, and she was not tech-savvy.
We were miles apart: my brother was in Oregon, I was in California, and Mom was in Ohio.
She was a strong, independent woman.
While I knew Mom was seeing a doctor, she never said it was severe. Doctors had no explanation for her symptoms.
Today, many websites provide ideas and tips if you are a long-distance caregiver, such as the following three.
The Fortune Well site identifies seven ways to care for elderly parents who live far away, such as having a care team or a personal care assistant, using technology, or having a life care manager.
AARP says that having good communication channels, creating a team, identifying a local coordinator, and staying in the loop is helpful.
The National Institute on Aging suggests the following.
Knowing what I do now, I would have a different approach to Mom’s health care - after Dad died and when she moved. She had no one supporting her - or only peripherally. The following would be my initial plan.
Make sure she has a working computer and phone and can use text messages, email, and Zoom so that we can communicate regularly.
Be more involved and ask her and the health care professionals more questions to help her make sound decisions.
Introduce myself to her doctor - if only on a Zoom call.
Have someone check on her, know her friends, and understand her situation - someone who will be honest with me.
Times have changed. I wished I’d known to take those steps. You may be in this position at some time and will want to prepare.
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