Do you find yourself wondering if your mom is making it to her doctor’s appointments or if your dad is taking his morning medications at the right time? Worrying about whether your parents have all the supplies they need and are safe in their daily environment can cause undue stress and anxiety. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep connected, even over long distances. Let’s talk about some of the ways you can keep your loved one safe across the miles while gaining peace of mind for yourself.
Develop local contacts
One important thing to do is to develop a relationship with local contact— a trusted friend or neighbor who is available to check in, let you know how things are going and lend an occasional hand. If no qualified person is available to do this, you may want to look at hiring a life care manager. These are professionals who can assess the needs of your loved one and provide a variety of services, including health care advocacy, financial management, housing assistance, and links to local resources. Although somewhat costly, care management services can provide peace of mind to distant family members. Debra Levy Eldercare Associates is a local example of such a service. To search other options, visit the Aging Life Care Association.
A less expensive option is for you to hire the services your loved one needs yourself. This can be a good option if your parent is generally able to function independently, but needs some assistance in certain areas.
For instance, if your parent wants to handle his or her own finances but can no longer keep up with the day-to-day responsibilities, a daily money manager can make sure bills are paid on time and essential papers are kept organized. These are bonded and insured professionals with expertise in bookkeeping. A local example of this service is My Confidant, Inc.
Services like meal preparation, light housekeeping, transportation, or assistance with daily hygiene can be provided by a home care agency, such as Shepherd’s Staff In-home Care. Agency caregivers are trained in the needs of the elderly and can provide varying levels of care, from occasional check-ins, 24-hour care, or anything in between. You might request occasional assistance with shopping or appointments, a brief biweekly visit to monitor bathing, or regular visits lasting several hours that may include help with a variety of home tasks. Most agencies allow you to choose the times that best suit your loved one.
Use technology to your advantage
1. Skype or FaceTime
Using an application like Skype or FaceTime on a regular schedule is a great way to keep in touch. Sometimes just being able to see one other can satisfy the need to know that things are alright. Visual contact also allows you to see things they may not tell you over the phone, such as bruising or clutter. When choosing which application to use, consider the needs of the least technically-inclined person in the group.
2. Medical Alert Systems
You may recall hearing “HELP! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” on television commercials for Life Alert. This company is one many medical alert services that can offer assistance during a health emergency. Most rely on a pendant or bracelet that can be used to call for assistance, usually through a home or cellular phone line or an internet connection. Operators available day and night and are able to communicate with the user, notify a neighbor, family member, or local care agency, and send emergency help to the location.
3. Electronic Monitoring
A variety of options are available to monitor the activity and movements of an elderly individual. These range from wearable bands that can detect motion, falls, or even health metrics like heart rate to advanced home monitoring systems that may include cameras, motion sensors, and smart devices. A key feature of such systems is the ability to notify someone a problem is detected. Some provide personalized medication reminders or a regular check-in phone call from a live operator. Many such systems include Android and iOS apps that allow family members to check on a loved one’s status or send personalized messages.
4. Automated Pill Boxes and Timers
Technology for medication reminders can range from simple devices like a locking pill box to an automated pill dispensing systems overseen by remote monitoring service. In either case, the pill container must be filled in advance by a qualified individual, who might be a family member, a local contact, or certified professional.
A locking pill box is is good for someone who is compliant about taking medication but needs help remembering which medicines to take and when. The box is programmed to open and dispense medication at the appropriate times of day and may provide an audible signal as a reminder.
Individuals who may not respond to an audible signal may need a dispensing system that is connected to a monitoring system that detects whether that the medication was taken out of the dispensing case and triggers a phone call reminder if the medication is not removed within a set time.
Documentation will give you peace of mind, too
Don’t neglect the necessary paperwork! If you have an aging parent, be sure a younger person is appointed as health care agent and financial power of attorney. It’s best to take care of this ahead of need, while your elderly parent is able to make decisions and to sign legal documents. Accessing bank accounts, or making health care decisions for a parent who has not signed such documents can become a nightmare, so don’t delay having this conversation. Help your parents prepare an advance directive specifying the type of care they would want in a critical or end-of-life situation. Be sure you (or another qualified person) is listed in the the HIPAA forms on file with all health care providers. If the doctor or local hospital offers a patient portal, help your loved ones set this up and encourage them to give you access — this will allow you to see records of medical visits and lab results. Be prepared ahead of time, so you can help your loved one when the need arises.