There are an estimated five to seven million long distance caregivers in America today, and the number is increasing rapidly as boomers reach retirement age and beyond. Generally, we start calling it long distance caregiving when the travel time that separates the caregiver from the older adult is greater than one hour. The distance combined with the demands can put a lot of strain on caregivers and their families. Yet, there is more than just a telephone or the local neighbor to mom or dad that can help caregivers keep in touch with the older adults for whom they are responsible.
Skype is not just for the younger, high-tech generation. Many of you may already know about this free, internet-based technology that allows two people to see and hear one another by way of their computers. This modern face time is a great way to personalize the long distance communication that must fill the time between personal visits to mom or dad. You can set it up to be almost as easy as a phone call for families to stay in touch in a more personal way.
Keeping track with older parents who may be suffering from early onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be fraught with anxiety for the distance caregiver. But it can be as easy as getting a cell phone for your older parent with its GPS connected to your own smart phone. It is not obtrusive, and it allows family to help keep tabs on the comings and goings of an older parent or even when the parent simply is not getting out.
For helping an older parent run errands, get to a doctor’s office visit or shop for the week’s groceries, you also can create a virtual community of people and resources. There is a website perfectly tailored to the special needs of long-distance caregiving call Lotsa Helping Hands. It offers a free way to set up a private community of people who can be that extra helping hand when needed by simply sending out the request as one would send out an announcement to a group on any of the social networks. It brings to the 21st century the opportunity for the whole village to contribute to caring for its seniors.
Finally, it would not be the complete story without the old standard, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The Philips Lifeline places the senior just the push of a button away from help. There also is a new optional feature that can detect the sudden movement of a fall and place the call without the button ever being touched.
There are more technological advances that can place a sensor mat at the bed side or a camera in the room, but honestly, these can get a bit intrusive. I suggest always that we balance safety with quality of life, and Big Brother never was much of a caregiver. In the end, it is also important to remember that these tech options are supplements to – and not replacements for – the human touch and presence.