You’ve just learned your mother, who retired to sunny Florida, has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. You might have seen this coming, in some form or another, when she started missing her doctor’s appointments or began forgetting important dates she’d always remembered. But now you’re dealing with the reality that you’re about to become one of an estimated 5-7 million long-distance caregivers.
Caregiving from afar comes with its own set of challenges. The good news is that today’s technologies have made it more personal and productive than ever before. The use of laptops, smartphones, and various home-health monitors have brought caring to your fingertips.
Let’s look at some steps you’ll need to take to make the most of your new position as caregiver.
With the help of a family physician, you’ll need to decide if your loved one can live alone. In many cases of early Alzheimer’s, patients can continue living independently until the disease progresses further. This may be an important transition for your parent, and it may be time to downsize. Remind your loved one that there’s lots of benefits to downsizing, such as more free time for favorite pastimes and eliminating floorplan issues like too many steps, not to mention the financial gains of not having a higher mortgage or property tax bill.
The following are some tips for downsizing:
- Declutter: Start by going room to room and discarding anything that isn’t needed. Toss out extra clothes, old books, magazines, extra dishes, and anything that won’t be a necessity.
- Collect/Store Important Papers: Make one central storage area, either in a filing cabinet or a small home safe, for important items like wills, power of attorney documents, birth certificates, social security cards, passports, deeds, medical records, and other important papers.
- Keep Memories Without Clutter: If your parent has stacks of old photos and VHS home videos, use a source like Legacy Box to digitize all of this to DVD.
- Label “Keep” and “Donate”: Once you’re clutter free, label all of the remaining items “keep” or “donate” and arrange for donation delivery. Places like Goodwill will pick up larger items, such as furniture.
Note: It’s important to space out this process to reasonable amounts of time each day, say two to three hours, to avoid increased stress.
Using a Home-Video Monitor
Once your loved one is set up in his or her new residence, you’ll want to establish some video monitoring for your own peace of mind. And it’s not as expensive as it sounds. The cost of video monitoring has decreased, and the technology has come a long way. If your loved one is not comfortable with video monitoring, consider a sensory monitor. These monitors work by attaching sensors throughout the home to monitor activity and will notify you via phone or email if something is out of the ordinary.
Visit Regularly With Technology
Technologies such as Skype and Facetime bridge the miles by allowing you to visit as often as you like online. Both provide face-to-face conversations, so you can see how your loved one is not only sounding, but looking. You can also use an app like Facetime to be present at critical doctor’s visits.
Now more than ever, your loved one may be unable to manage medication administration independently. Various medication-reminder apps are available on your smartphone to make sure your senior keeps on track.
These include both GPS-tracking devices and medical alert systems, which can be activated while outside the home. Some devices even allow for the creation of “geo-fencing,” which allows movement within an established boundary around the home but sends alerts if the boundaries are breached.
Emerging technologies continue to bridge the distance gap between caregiver and loved one. While the miles may separate you physically, technology can keep you close in heart and mind. And as you embark on caring for your loved one, make sure to set aside time for proper self-care.
This is a guest post written by Marie Villeza – Elderimpact.org