Whether you prefer your mobile device or pen and paper, you can harness the tools at your fingertips to help your family stay connected with an aging parent.
As many as 15% of caregivers must travel an hour or more when caring for an aging parent with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s latest Facts and Figures report. Long-distance caregiving can lead to difficulties with communication, coordinating care and handling expenses, not to mention the emotional burden of caring for someone who lives far away. As a result, caregivers have had to come up with creative ways of addressing the problem of staying connected with their loved ones and coordinating with other family members.
Luckily, our own personal computers, phones and other technological devices are there to help out, and the past few years have seen the advent of numerous apps, communities and websites tailored to the needs of caregivers. Of course, there’s always face-to-face contact, snail mail and written notes too.
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Whether you prefer modern technology or old-fashioned pen and paper, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help families stay in contact and monitor ongoing caregiving needs.
Family meetings can be one of the most effective ways of conducting elder care planning as it’s important to keep everyone on the same page. It helps to meet in-person, but if you are a long-distance caregiver, all is not lost — it’s a great idea to establish a network of friends and family in the vicinity who can check-in on Dad or Mom. “One-on-one interaction is important to keep your loved one socialized and stimulated, not to mention, people in your network can let you know if they observe anything out of the ordinary,” said Joan Lunden in “Caregiving Tips From Joan Lunden: 6 Ways to Stay Connected.”
Joan Lunden also says she frequently sends her mom mail — either letters or just brief postcards — to let her know that she’s thinking of her. A Place for Mom reader Susan K. agrees: she types up her letters to her mom on the computer, where she can insert photos of her family, and then prints them out to send. This is also a nice way to keep extended family apprised of a senior loved one’s activities and health.
Plenty of people report that their favorite method of keeping track of caregiving activities like medication administration and doctor appointments is simply by writing them down. Some keep a regular notebook for record keeping, sharing it with other family caregivers or health care professionals as needed. Others use products designed for caregivers, like The Care Organizer, which has useful pockets and dividers for receipts and records.
If you’ve got a computer or laptop handy, don’t discount the effectiveness of a simple email. With email, you can easily contact a group of family members to coordinate caregiving, and if you have a camera in your phone or a scanner, you can scan or snap photos of important documents to share via e-mail. Or, if you need to update someone right away, you can use that same phone to send a picture message or text. Caregivers can also send pictures of loved ones or daily updates through email and text messages. Of course, don’t forget that a quick phone call can often resolve a problem more quickly than an email or text.
Most computers and tablets have a webcam built in; if your senior loved one has an internet connection, all you need to do is download a simple program like FaceTime or Skype and you’ll have everything you need to chat by video. Video chats are a great way to cross the miles between family members, and they can help you keep visual track of any physical changes to your loved one. Also, notes A Place for Mom reader Jerry H., video chat can enable you to meet caregivers and health aides, and coordinate care with them regularly.
Many commenters on the New York Times’ New Old Age blog recommend firing up Microsoft Excel when it comes to keeping caregiving records. A spreadsheet can be a lifesaver when it comes to tracking appointments, finances and medication management, and documents can easily be emailed to caregivers and family members. Even keeping a simple chronological log in Excel or Word can help.
A whole range of resources are available to family members online. You can find everything from social support and discussion boards, to detailed health information on websites specifically designed for caregivers. For information and support, you can visit caregiver resources, such as Family Caregiver Alliance and The Alzheimer’s Association.
There are also ready-made online tools for privately sharing health records and coordinating with other family members: just a few popular sites are CaringBridge.org, HealthVault, Tyze.com and WebMD Health Manager. They can help you track appointments, update your family network, and more.
Calendaring can be a major issue when trying to coordinate caregiving from afar, especially if you’re dealing with multiple health caretakers and family members. Many of the websites mentioned above offer a way to collaboratively keep track of a calendar for you senior loved one, whether it’s managing doctor’s appointments or medications. Google Calendar is another popular online calendar; it’s free, easy to use, and handy for anyone with a Google or Gmail account.
If you’re married to your mobile device, there are a plethora of apps to help you keep track of dad’s doctor appointments and mom’s medicine. Depending on what your needs are, you can monitor medication administration, senior nutrition and even send group voice messages and to-do lists. Check the online tools in #8 above, as well as CareZone and the Android app MedMinder. Other caregiving apps include iPharmacy, LiveWello and WebMD Mobile. Check them out to see which one is right for your family!
How do you coordinate care for your aging parent? Which strategies does your family use to care for your loved one? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments below.