The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that as well as being unable to visit our parents and grandparents, we are also unable to care for them in the same way that we used to. Caring from a distance will never be the same as helping an ageing relative in person. However, there are effective ways to care for an elderly relative from afar. Age Space founder Annabel James shares some of her tips for caring from a distance.
If you live far away, talking to neighbours, friends and family who live closer to your relative can help. Not only does this mean that there is someone regularly checking in on them but it can also provide you with reassurance that they are well. Installing a keysafe and sharing the code with trusted neighbours and friends can make this a little easier. This has the added benefit that, in the event of an emergency, paramedics can get access to the home quicker.
There are also many practical things that you can take care of from afar. For instance, if one family member takes on more of the physical caring responsibilities because they live closer, you could take on other jobs such as completing paperwork and organising appointments. Sharing the care responsibilities will help you feel that you are doing your bit, while also freeing up those who live closer to do more in person.
2. Make use of technology
While it’s no substitute for going for a coffee or a walk, technology enables you to see each other, if only through screens. Video calling apps like Skype, Zoom and Whatsapp, have all got a lot friendlier for older people to set-up alone. Not only can you frequently catch up ‘face-to-face’ with them, but it can also provide an opportunity for other family members to see each other. Group games and quizzes over video calls can bring the whole family together for a good fun evening. This technology also allows older relatives to catch up with people they can’t see in person. This in turn helps to combat loneliness and isolation.
Technology can also be used to make sure an older parent is safe and well. Personal alarms ensure that help is only ever one button press away (or none at all with fall detector alarms). Beyond personal alarms, telecare detectors and sensors utilise the latest technology to record the user's activity and make sure they are safe and well. Examples of additional sensors and telecare equipment include flood detectors, smart heat and smoke alarms, bed sensors and more.
3. Stay on top of their health
Caring from a distance means it can be hard to notice changes in a parent’s physical or mental condition. This makes it all the more important to be observant when you do get to talk to them. If you think there is something slightly off about their behaviour, or if someone else has noticed something, it’s important to address it quickly – even if it turns out to be nothing. Dementia, for example, affects lots of older people and can be difficult to diagnose at an early stage unless a close family member notices changes in memory or behaviour. Contact a GP if you or your family have any concerns.
If you notice that an older parent is beginning to struggle to look after themselves or their partner, and you aren’t able to provide any additional support yourself, it may be time to start thinking about other care options. Hiring a home carer or finding live-in care that works for you and your parent takes time and requires a lot of thought. You may also need to look into financial support to cover the costs of this care. The first and hardest step is to have an open conversation with your relative. Involve your family and listen to their needs. It may be that they don’t need a full-time live-in carer but just someone to help at mealtimes, for example.
4. Caring for yourself
To provide the best possible care for an older relative who lives far away, you have to look after your own health and mental wellbeing. Juggling work, your own family and caring for someone else will always be difficult. That’s why it’s so important to take a break once in a while and to take some time for yourself. It's totally natural to feel stressed or overwhelmed when caring from a distance. The single best thing you can do to help with this is to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
If you don’t feel that you can talk to family members, there are free helplines you can call for advice or just to feel heard. There might also be a local carers charity or organisation that can support you.
Age UK Advice Line – 0800 678 1602
Admiral Nurses (if you care for someone with dementia) – 0800 888 6678
Carers UK – 0808 808 7777
Samaritans – 116 123
The Stroke Association (if you care for someone who has had a stroke) – 0303 3033 100
Age Space is a free online resource for those caring for an older family member, neighbour or friend. Find support, information and advice on all things elderly care from legal matters, elderly care funding, care options, dementia care and more.