I visit my parents often, and I can tell you I’m so very grateful that they’re still with us. The trip from my house to their respective care communities is a drive I make with joy in my heart. The visits allow me to spend quality time conversing with my mother, and connecting with my father. Depending on the day, Dad may or may not be aware that he’s joking and speaking with his daughter. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that we enjoy one another while I’m there.
I confess that I didn’t always have such a great attitude about these visits. I live in Boston, which is 90-miles away from my parents. Years ago, when my increasingly ill father and my increasingly frail mother were still rambling around in the house I grew up in, the frequent trips across the state left me drained. I had a demanding full-time job and my three now-grown children still needed my attention. Plus, I never knew exactly what I would find when I arrived at either end of the journey. Like many caregivers, I was physically and mentally exhausted.
Of course, even then some might say I had it good. The average long-distance caregiver lives 450 miles from their loved ones. They burn up the phone lines—and when they’re lucky, emails—arranging transportation, provisions, finances and meals for parents or grandparents who may not realize they need help. Recently, I spoke to a man who lives a few states away from his mother. He had power of attorney and thought he could keep tabs on things. Well, first he noticed that more and more money was being withdrawn from his mother’s bank account each month. Then, there seemed to be a very high rate of turnover among the caregivers she hired. Finally, his mother seemed increasingly vague when he asked specific questions. The man cleared his work schedule and drove to his mother’s home. There he found the place cluttered, the refrigerator filled with containers of take-out food, and dirty laundry everywhere. His mother wore clean clothes, only because she purchased new items instead of washing—or hiring someone to wash—her soiled clothes. The son was understandably upset.
My team at Care.com encouraged him to get a dementia evaluation for his mom, based on some of the behaviors he reported. We also helped him determine his mother’s immediate needs and hire pre-screened home caregivers. He talked to his mother about her preferences and about his concerns for her safety. Together they came up with a plan that allowed his mom to stay in her home a bit longer, and that allowed him to sleep at night. I expect that his next trip home to visit Mom will be more joyful than the last.
If you’re a long-distance caregiver, I’d love to hear from you. How do you manage? What gives you the greatest sense of comfort? What do you most fear? How often do you make the long trip to visit your loved one? And if you’re still trying to get a handle on everything—and don’t know where to turn—please call one of Care.com’s senior care advisors at 855-490-8654. We’re here to help.