How to Care for Your Aging Parents From a Distance
New technology and resources make it easier to research and monitor your parents’ care even if you live far away.
FINDING CARE FOR YOUR aging parents is usually a rushed and stressful experience, when you have limited time to find facilities or caregivers before your parents are discharged from the hospital. And it's even more difficult if you live in a different city and can't be there to monitor their care. Even if your parents haven't had an emergency, you may worry that you'll miss clues that they need extra help with their everyday lives when you aren't there to check in regularly. But new resources and technology are making it easier to find and manage care for your parents from a distance.
The following steps can help you help your parents:
- Research care options in advance.
- Arrange for your parents' care.
- Get help from a geriatric care manager.
- Use technology to stay in touch.
Research Care Options in Advance
Your parents can have a lot more control over their care if you work together and start exploring their options before anything happens. Talk with them about their wishes if they eventually need care. Do they want to stay in their home as they get older and have a caregiver help them there, or are they interested in moving to a retirement community or assisted living? Do they want to stay where they are or move closer to their kids or grandkids? This can be a difficult conversation, but it's an opportunity for your parents to consider their options and start thinking about where they'd feel most comfortable.
If you're in town visiting your parents, take some time to visit some of the senior living communities and facilities in the area. While the coronavirus has temporarily closed off most of these communities to outsiders, many now offer virtual tours that make it easy to start the search from anywhere.
There are many more care options than there had been in the past. "Most people think of nursing homes they may have visited years ago for one of their aging relatives, but the communities today are nothing like that," says Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Caring.com, which helps people find senior care and senior living options. "We focus on independent living, assisted living and memory care. They have come a long way, and they've invested a lot in creating spaces that are welcoming to allow seniors to go on with their interests. It's impressive. If you have enough foresight to visit a couple, your parents can be much more comfortable in that decision."
Find out about the costs and whether your parents have long-term-care insurance or plan to pay the bills from their savings, which can help you narrow down the search. The annual Genworth Cost of Care survey shows the median costs of nursing homes, assisted living and home health aides by city and state, which can help when deciding whether to move to a new city for care.
Arrange for Your Parents' Care
When you need to find care for your parents soon – whether they're about to be discharged from the hospital or you realize that they can't live on their own without help any longer – it helps to talk with all of the experts who have worked with your parents about the specific care that they need, including their doctors, nurses, social workers and any case manager in the hospital.
Take advantage of resources to help you find caregivers and facilities. Some employers offer an employee assistance program that helps find caregivers and care facilities for family members. They may also offer discounts on backup caregiving services, which can be helpful if their regular caregiver calls in sick or misses work (especially if you don't live in the area and can't help out yourself).
If your parents have a long-term-care insurance policy, their coverage might include services to help you find caregivers and facilities that meet your parent's needs and the policy's requirements (the policy may require the facility or caregiver to meet certain licensing requirements, for example). "Policies today offer care management services that can be reimbursed to a certain amount, with geriatric care managers that can help find a facility or home-care services based on clients' needs," says Brian Gordon, president of MAGA Long Term Care Planning in Bannockburn, Illinois, which has been specializing in long-term care insurance since 1975. "We have our clients reach out to us all of the time for help with claims and trying to help them find the best care for themselves and even friends or family members."
Online tools can also help with your search. You can search for assisted living, home-care agencies and senior living communities by ZIP code at sites such as Caring.com, which also includes client reviews and family advisors who can help you narrow your search based on geography, budget and care needs.
Area Agency on Aging offices are also a great hub of information about resources in your parents' area, including home-care agencies, senior centers, nursing homes, financial and transportation benefits, Meals on Wheels programs, adult day care and senior housing options. For links to these local resources, see the U.S. Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator.
Get Help From a Geriatric Care Manager
A geriatric care manager can help you find and manage care, and can be especially comforting if you don't live near your parents. "We can be the boots on the ground," says Byron Cordes, president of Sage Care Management in San Antonio. Also called aging life care managers, many have backgrounds in nursing, social work or physical or occupational therapy and can help create a care plan, choose a care option and even monitor your parent's care. "We have folks who have decades of experience, so while this is probably the first time your parents have ever aged, we've been through it with hundreds of other families," says Cordes. "You're not alone."
It can help to start talking with them about your parents' options in advance, but they can also spring into action if you need to find care in a hurry. "We like folks who come to us early and they say they want to plan, but 90% of our clients come to us in the middle of a crisis," says Cordes.
He starts by providing a detailed care assessment after meeting with the client and their family, and getting authorization to talk with their doctors, financial planners, elder-law attorneys, rehabilitation specialists and others who have worked with them and understand their needs. He then creates a 20-page report with recommendations. "We can come in and see the big picture and then can pull all the players together," he says.
You can find care managers through the Aging Life Care Association (aginglifecare.org). Aging life care managers generally charge $100 to $300 per hour, with $150 being typical, says Cordes. Most offer an initial assessment that costs about $1,000 to $2,500 in most areas.
Use Technology to Stay in Touch
Technology makes it much easier to stay in touch with your parents and monitor their care from a distance. Everyone is becoming more familiar with video communication and online deliveries because of the coronavirus, which can also help you help your parents. You can talk with your parents through FaceTime or Skype, which they can access through a smartphone, computer or a tablet. If your parents aren't comfortable with technology, tablets such as GrandPad make it simple to make video calls, email, search the web and play games. Devices such as Amazon Echo Show can be managed remotely and used for video chats and reminders to take medications.
Medical alert systems can provide a range of monitoring levels – from GPS on watches and shoes, to fall alerts and emergency assistance. You can set up home-monitoring systems with cameras, but there are many less-intrusive options, such as sensors that track movement and can be installed on the refrigerator, bathroom door and pill bottles. You can get pill dispensers that beep or let you record messages to remind them to take their medicine – some people have their grandchildren record the reminder, says Cordes.
The technology can help you monitor your parents, but it doesn't replace eyes-on communication. Rosenthal recommends setting up a regular time each week for a video call, rather than just a phone call, so you can actually see how your parents are doing.