How can I help my mom take care of my dad at a long distance?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 25, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My parents are in New Mexico and I live in Iowa. I have been away from "Home" for 30 years. I have a very close relationship with them despite the distance. I see them at least once a year for vacation. Their physical aging, for me, is not a gradual process. They are both engaged intellectuals, so from a far; on the phone, it seems that all is fairly well. My father has a multitude of health problems that my mother is trying to address. This spring I went home prompted by a serious feeling that all was not well. Mom has always been the emotional rock in our family while Daddy brought home the bacon and I heard the stress in her voice. On a side note my brother is going thru a very nasty divorce and it has taken a toll on mother as well. So I get home and Daddy is close to being in the wheelchair. Fighting this with all he has. He is downright dangerous when he isn't sleeping in his lazyboy; which is most of the time because he is addicted to painkillers due to his muscular condition.Horror of horrors he still drives!! He is driving my mother crazy. He has a new pacemaker, a cpap and adjustable bed for severe sleep apnea, pulmonary issues, his blood pressure is in the fifties, and there was a prostate issue that seems to be the last on the long list of problems. I went to help. As,it turned out I just stirred things up. With the men in my family at least, who are brilliant, they think, and loudly argue their points. Politics being the constant. It is on at extreme volume 18 hours a day because Daddy won't wear ear plugs. It's hot mess down there. I talk to mom everyday. About nothing and everything but now I'm thinking that may not be enough. My brother is disconnected and of no support. In truth an added stress in their lives. And I am torn between when I should go home and be phsyically there for my mother. My grandmother passed in mothers care at her and home shortly thereafter her sister passed as well. With in the last 7 yrs. She has only once said to me that she didn't know if she could cope with another death at close range. The transitions in their lives are immenent. Mom can only hold it all together for so long. i guess when she has run herself out. They will ask for help. Mom has ladies who come and clean a couple of times a month and a handyman to do the things that Daddy no longer can. First she has to convince him that he can't and finally listen to the critic of the handymans work. is it time for me to go there? I'm so worried about my mom. Can i really be of any help to her from afar? How close is my father to the end? (I think it's not long} He has already said he will die in his home and really doesn't need anything from us. Except for mom to be his indentured slave.I love these colorful, independent, exasperating and wonderful parents of mine. I feel helpless...What can I do from afar? I send this my first text message to the universe because, this time I'm gonna need a little help.

Expert Answers

Mary Koffend is the president of Accountable Aging Care Management (AACM), an eldercare consulting and care management firm that works with elder clients and their families to find the best care providers and services to meet their needs.

There are many things you can do to support your parents and make these next years the best they can be for your parents and leave you with more peace of mind. As a long distance caregiver, you need to arrange for the support for your parents and for yourself. Not all the suggestions may work for you and your family, but they may inspire you to think outside of the box and find unique ways of support.

  1. Begin by a visit and evaluate the situation. Mostly you should look and observe. Find out the financial situation: their income and expenses. Review their legal documents and determine who the medical and financial power of attorney is so you know who has some authority as you move forward. Ask about neighbors, friends and church members who can be support. Other issues you may want to look at: How will the bills be paid timely and can we insure effective use of funds? How will nutritional needs be met? How will socialization needs be met? How will spiritual needs be met? How will daily chores be done? What needs to be done to insure good hygiene? How will medicine and doctor's visits be managed?

  2. The next step is to make a plan of care. The plan of care is really responding to the needs identified in the observation and evaluation. For example, maybe you have identified a neighbor to help take your mother to weekly senior activities at church to help her have some time away from your dad and have her spiritual and social needs met., Also maybe at the same time you arranged for a paid caregiver service to work 4 hours /3 days a week for meals, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. This would give your mother some physical relief and could provide some socialization for your dad and assure nutritional needs are met. Each plan is very individualized and usually some immediate steps are identified and some things take longer. For example, it might take a while to convince your dad to let you do online bill paying of their expenses.

  3. Once you have made a plan, the most important part for a long distance caregiver is to monitor the plan. You need to look at routine and emergency contacts.

Routine would be calls to the neighbors and friends that you identified as helpers, contacts with service providers such as a caregiver service, reports from the doctor's office and calls to your parents as well as your personal scheduled visits to see how things are going. For emergencies, you want to again identify some friend, neighbor or family member that can physically go see the situation and help with it. Also it is good to investigate the use of emergency response systems, the "help buttons" to allow your dad to make contact with assistance if your mom is unable. You might also consider hiring a professional care manager who can provide oversight in routine and emergency situations and be an advocate for your parents in the healthcare environment of doctor's visits or hospitalizations.

  1. Recordkeeping is another important aspect of the process. You should obtain a document holder for easy access to all legal documents: birth certificate, pre-needs burial, DD214, powers of attorney, bank information, health insurance claim numbers, and life insurance. You will want to create phone number lists. You can use a spiral notebook with neighbors, friends, services, lawn, homemaker, church, doctors, and pharmacy or use one of the many computer or phone options. Consider purchasing or setting up a separate calendar for information only about your parents such as service provider dates, doctor's appointments, your visits, and such. The calendar can serve as a visual queue for actions. Lastly consider using a Journal to help with keeping the overall picture and picking up on trends as you record the routine calls with your parents and the other support persons you identified as part of your plan.

  2. Take care of yourself. You are the person that your mom in particular is counting on for support. Make sure that you keep some focus on the things that matter to you and get social and spiritual enrichment for yourself. Being a caregiver especially at a distance is always a demanding and stressful role, but with a plan, you can manage it successfully and feel comfortable about your parents' aging journey.

Community Answers

Melanied answered...

Thank you for answering! I really appreciate it. Your ideas about keeping track of conversations and a calendar are great! I guess I will take this one step at a time.

Caringdenise answered...

Hi MelanieD,

I'm so glad to hear that Mary Koffend's answer was helpful to you. A resource you can use to follow-up on a couple of her suggestions is the Senior Living Directory. Here are links to the search tools for finding a personal care assistant (in-home paid caregiver service) and geriatric care manager in your parents' area...

Additionally, Tech-Savvy Daughter has compiled a list of Tech Tools for Long-Distance Caregiving that you may want to check out.

You mentioned that your dad was still driving and could be dangerous. has several resources to help you persuade him in giving up the keys and finding alternative methods of transportation:

I wish you and your family well, and hope you will let us know if you have any more questions or resource needs in caring for your parents. Thanks for asking!

Healthcentral answered...

Please refer your mother to: As a spousal MS caregiver, this site has been priceless to me.

And please visit your parents more often. Nothing is more uplifting than seeing your children and grandchildren ... even if there is no work to be done. Look closely and you'll find ways to help. Just don't let your mother play hostess ... give her a break every chance you get. You'll all be glad you did.

Melanied answered...

Hello DGrab- Thank you for your post. I'm afraid I am going to be the last to know of events in New Mexico. I have only found out thru a close relative that my father suffered a heart attack a month ago and I was not told so that I would not worry. I guess they believe that since I can't do anything to help that they are sparing me the pain. I am in much more pain not knowing what is happening and even more so because they are making these decisions of excluding me. I will just have to wait for the news that one day they will not be able to hide from me. In the mean time I am grateful for the family I have here in Iowa. I do love my family in NM and will have to accept the decisions they make. It hurts me profoundly but I pray for them and myself. Thanks again for your post and the links. Melanie