Whether your aging parents are a plane-ride away, or just 20 miles that becomes an hour drive in crazy Bay area traffic – geographic distance for adult children helping Mom and Dad is a serious challenge. But with a bit of planning and focus, some of your every day stresses can be better managed.
Three critical factors should be addressed: family roles, organization and communication.
Each member, far or near, should have a clearly identified part to play in the support of your aging parents. Assign key responsibilities:
1. Who is the primary point of contact with your aging parents?
2. What is the expectation for that person to share updates with the rest of the family? What are the mechanisms – a pre-set group TXT, email or group phone call? What is the frequency of updates?
3. In the event of an emergency that requires travel, who is “on-call” and willing to make the trip? Is there a designated travel budget in place or access to airline miles or credit card rewards that can help ease the burden of emergency travel costs? This could be something that your family pools together, or that your aging parents can set aside.
When creating your family plan, try to align roles to skill sets, schedule realities and, if agreed, to financial means. Whether someone is designated as the good listener to provide overall family support or the one with the business savvy to navigate estate logistics – respect that all roles are important.
There is nothing more frustrating, or potentially heartbreaking, than spending hours and days cleaning up legal, financial and household logistics. Understanding that time spent on those tasks trades off time spent enjoying each other can be a great motivator for families that need to get organized.
1. Do all you can to ensure your parents’ legal affairs are in order; a valid Will, Advanced Medical Directive, Durable Power of Attorney (POA) and HIPPA consent are critical legal documents they need.
In addition to hard copies for adult children, work with your parents to scan all of these documents into a shared, but secure cloud account (DropBox, Google Docs, etc.) so that family members can access them – right from their mobile phone if needed (when at a hospital for example).
For a good overview of eldercare legal issues go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/caringforyourparents/handbook/legalissues/index.html
2. If possible, help your parents to organize as much financial activity through automatic deposits and on-line bill pay. Make sure that a set of account numbers, copies of regular monthly bills and relevant passwords are in a known place that can be accessed by the family, such as a safe or locked file cabinet.
Or better yet, use a reputable, free on-line bill organizing system that puts all the information in one place for you – try out www.MoneyStream.com
3. Household organization is especially convenient when distance separates you. Knowing where your parents’ important possessions are is necessary for family members to help in an emergency.
When my mom wanted her ‘”best pajamas” for her hospital stay, I had no idea which pair she meant.
A go-bag for emergencies with needed medications, favorite clothing, family photos, even an heirloom throw blanket or quilt can bring incredible comfort to your parent and saves everyone from a frantic search through closets and drawers.
Designating your family’s primary point of contact is critical – but it’s also important to have tools that facilitate and streamline communications.
1. Create a shared family calendar with your parents’ doctor appointments, visits by in-home caregivers, cleaning services – all the known activities connected to your parents well being. And if other family members, friends or neighbors have offered to help your parents, a free tool like Sign-Up Genius will help you coordinate food drop-offs, transportation or visiting companions.
2. Teaching your parents how to use a service like Skype or FaceTime will make everyone feel closer. Being able to see your parents, and perhaps more importantly their ability to see you almost makes the miles between everyone disappear.
3. An emergency alert system is a must have for everyone’s peace of mind. Develop a companion protocol that kicks in should emergency personnel need to enter your parents’ home: assign a local person who can tidy and lock up if needed, inform local friends and neighbors, arrange for pet care, – whatever post-emergency activities need attention before you can arrive on site.
Creating a robust process for your family may seem overwhelming, but once your system is in place the geographic distance between you will feel less daunting and more manageable.
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