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Caring for the elderly far from home

29th April 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Supporting older parents under normal circumstances is not without its challenges, but when you live some distance away, ensuring they get the care they need becomes a paramount concern.

Work commitments and family ties elsewhere have, for many, meant living close to their elderly relative simply isn’t possible. It’s a delicate situation that can leave us feeling guilty and concerned for our loved one, particularly as they get older and are no longer as fit and active as they once were.

When you can’t always be there in person, find out what you can do to help them receive the attention they need in our guide to caring for the elderly far from home.

Planning ahead

Planning ahead now and having those difficult conversations sooner rather than later will mean you can act before your older relative becomes too frail. It’s important that they’re just as proactive in the discussions as you; it is their aging that you’re discussing after all.

You should try to have a plan in place for what will happen when living completely self-sufficiently becomes too much. Will they move out of their home? How will they fund any necessary care? These are just some of the questions you should establish answers for while your loved one is fit and healthy and able to express their desires for the future.

The organisation Age Space draws on personal experience, creating an online community to help others prepare as their relative gets older. Co-founder, Ruth Darrah explains: “Nothing prepares and equips you for this stage of life and we felt completely at sea.

“We wanted to create a website which provided all the help we wished we had had, including a place to ask questions, to say the unsayable, to let off steam about what is, for many, a deeply stressful time.“

www.agespace.org recommends helping your loved one create a folder of emergency information and keeping a copy for yourself should a situation arise. The folder should include:

  • Bank account details
  • National Insurance number, passport number
  • Where to find passports, driving licence, birth certificate, marriage certificate
  • Vehicle ownership paperwork
  • Personal and other insurance details, including private health insurance details and house insurance
  • Important contact details – GP, carers, other agencies, neighbours and other relevant people
  • Copy of the will – or where to find it, as well as any relevant lists of bequests
  • Copy of any Power of Attorney and Advance Directive
  • Keys, safe and security alarm details
  • Passwords
  • And finally, but probably No 1 on many lists: instructions for what to do with the pets!

While you won’t always know how things will evolve, having a plan in place and idea of your options can help your relative feel secure and you more confident when they’re not close by. 

Updating the home

At some point it will be necessary to address their living situation, whether it needs modifying to help them continue to live independently or if it’s time to make the move to somewhere lower maintenance. It’s another subject that needs to be broached with care.

Many of us value our independence and if this is threatened will feel resistant to any ideas that could actually be beneficial to our wellbeing. First think about what can be changed around their house to make it safer and comfortable for them to remain in familiar surroundings.

If mobility has reduced over time, for example, installing a stairlift will enable your loved one to move around the home more easily. Support handles placed in the bathroom or any room where a fall might occur are another small change that could improve safety in the house and will make your relative feel more confident living self-sufficiently. There are more minor things you can do that have a huge impact on the overall living conditions. If you’re able to visit or if you can call in a professional domestic service, sprucing up the place is a must. By taking the time to organise the place you can spring clean your way to a better 2016.

Keeping up to date with changes in the home and your relative’s health needn’t be difficult either.

“For relatives concerned about someone who is currently at home, one of the best ways to help is to discuss using Telecare with him/her as a way of being able to make staying at home safer for them,” explains Barbara from The National Careline.

There to help guide people through the care maze, The National Careline provides advice on a variety of subjects relevant to older people, from finding carers to taking holidays in your later years, and even provides tips on staying safe in the home.

“Telecare systems available now are not intrusive and monitor movement or the temperature in the home so that for instance; if the person hasn't got up that day or has, but hasn't moved from somewhere in the house for several hours, it could be that there is a problem and the relatives would then be alerted and could get persons living near to go and visit, “continues Barbara.

“The monitor also keeps an eye on temperature and if it falls too low, the relative can call the person in the flat and tell them to turn the heating up. The provision of a lifeline also provides a lot of confidence to someone living on their own.”

Personal alarms are similar, but the older person can wear this on their body at all times and press it when they need to alert you to a problem. As Ruth Darrah explains: “This can be really useful for peace of mind, and can be particularly good if one of your parents is more frail than the other and is sometimes left alone at home for short periods of time.”

Keeping Connected

It goes without saying that having continuous communication with your loved one is essential. Visiting as often as you can will also accomplish a lot. Not only are you spending quality time with your relative but you’re also able to assess the situation for yourself, check if any jobs need doing around the house, if care is being given effectively or if you can do a food shop for them while you’re there.

If you’re some distance away and making regular trips is difficult, Age Space suggests some alternative tips that will help to keep you connected and in the loop.

1. Sign up to a video messaging service.

If it's possible, do get your parents to use Skype or Facetime. It can really reduce their sense of isolation if they can see you as you chat (and if they have grandchildren it's a particularly good way to keep in touch). It also gives you the chance for a bit of a snoop. How do they look? Do they appear to be properly dressed and to have done their hair? Can you see if their house looks ok in the background? Can you see piles of paperwork or washing up? 

2. Get advice from others in a similar situation.

Join a community group online such as the Age Space Forum: www.agespace.org/chat. You will find you're not the only one facing these issues, and it may help to find out what others are doing. You can see how others have dealt with similar problems, you can ask questions, share your own experience and let off steam. All anonymously! 

3. Build a network.

As your parents become more frail, it's really useful to talk to anyone who they see on a regular basis. Maybe they have a cleaner, a neighbour, a friend they meet up with regularly, a group they go to each week, even the local shopkeeper if they go there at least once a week. Get the phone number of all of these people and, more importantly, give them yours. You could ask them to call you if they notice anything unusual or if they don't see your parents when they would expect to; they can be incredibly helpful when you can't be there all the time yourself.  You could also call one of them if you can't get hold of your parents yourself.

You can also find out what programmes are available in your relative’s area by contacting the local authority Social Services or doing your research online.

“Another fantastic source of help is the Royal Voluntary Service who run all sorts of things plus they often offer meals on wheels,” explains Barbara.

“Also, if the person or their family have connections with the services, the Royal British Legion case officers offer wonderful support. They also have holiday homes where people can go to have a break.

“If the person has a pet and they are unable to exercise it anymore, they could contact The Cinnamon Trust to see if they have a volunteer in the area who would be able to do this for them. This is a lovely way of meeting someone else to combat loneliness too and perhaps, they may be able to exercise their pet if they have someone to walk with them. Often the problem is just a lack of confidence.”

Staying independent

Remaining independent, happy and confident at home as we get older is important to many elderly people. Where possible, you should follow your loved one’s wishes and help them to do so but just because they’re living alone doesn’t mean they need to be on their own. Realistically, everyday tasks can become more challenging as we age and some level of care may be necessary.

Services such as Team Home Help offer a flexible solution, providing live-in care where it’s needed. John explains live-in care saying: “Basically it’s someone to take the place of absent siblings and apart from the added benefits of companionship, a live-in carer looks out for your relative and prevents falls and the often catastrophic consequences.”

Usually, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with a prospective carer before they start work and you should take this time to ask any questions or raise any points about how you would like them to care for your relative.

Many find live-in care helpful, not only because they can carry out any jobs around the house and provide care to your loved one but also as a point of contact to keep you in touch with how your relative is coping.

Finding a solution to give your loved one the attention they need from far away is no easy task, but fortunately there are options available and the challenge is exploring these to find what works for you and your relative. Just because you’re not readily available on their doorstop doesn’t mean the care you provide needs to be distant.