Mom and Dad are in Idaho. You're in California.
They say everything is fine, but you only get out there once a year if you're lucky. Recently, mom's been handing the phone off to dad. She doesn't really want to talk.
What if everything isn't alright? How can you be sure?
Caregiving is difficult. Caregiving from a distance? That's even more difficult. Although you're not involved in the hands on, day-to-day aspect of caregiving, the unknown can be frightening and distance does not change the fact that you are their caregiver.
If things have taken a turn for the worse, you probably won't know unless someone else is involved, which usually means the hospital or, heaven forbid, the police or other emergency responders.
Establish open communication with their "support system" – whether it's a personal physician, private caregiver, or a concerned neighbor – as early and as frequently as possible. When you do visit, take time to meet the individuals who are part of your parents' everyday life. They need to know you are involved and what they can do to help you. These people should become your support as well.
Pay attention to warning signs: Is mom or dad anxious to get off the phone? Are they not wanting to talk about daily activities? Do they always responding with "I'm fine" or "We're okay," but not wanting to answer specific questions? Have they stopped doing some of the things they used to enjoy doing, like attending church, or getting together with friends? Are they unaware of current events or forgetting important dates they used to remember like birthdays and anniversaries? Perhaps the biggest red flag - are they reluctant to have you or other family members come to visit?
Maybe an impromptu visit is in order.
Everything may be fine. Maybe mom is having some hearing loss, which makes listening on the telephone difficult. Don't be afraid to ask a difficult question.
If everything is fine, your questions will be answered and your visit will be celebrated. But, if your heart is telling you something is wrong, then something likely is. Never ignore what your instincts are telling you. Use a visit to put a plan into place and find local support to help you better manage your role as a long-distance caregiver.
The most important thing? Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Jennifer Wojtas is the Sales Director for The Windham, a Kisco Senior Living Community in Fresno, California.
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