Thursday, August 29, 2013

Caring for an elderly parent long distance - what can you do?

As I have mentioned before, my Mom is 92 and lives alone although 50 miles from my brother and SIL who visit regularly. She has physical health problems and mild dementia. She has hired a lot of occasional help (cleaning, yard work, driving) yet resists more help. We are challenged as to how to help her.

Lately my brother and I have been spending quite a bit of time on the phone figuring out how to team up to make sure she is taken care off despite her resistance. She says she is feeling lousy and in pain but has insisted that she go alone to the doctor. We know she doesn't give the doctor accurate info.

We are getting better at influencing her. What we have discovered is that I can convince her of things on the phone that she will refuse to do if presented by my brother or SIL. So we made a doctor's appointment for her and my brother took her and will continue to simply take her to her appointments rather than asking if he can go. We will keep comparing notes about what she tells us about her health.

The other things I do long distance is provide a less frustrated ear to listen to her and sympathize. I also read up on her ailments and provide my brother with info and suggestions.

We are also concerned about her handling of her bills. When I visit next week she will want me to file and shred paperwork which gives me the perfect opportunity to see what is going on. I am thinking we will set up online banking (we are both co-trustees on her living trust accounts) and convince her that my brother will start picking up her mail and taking the bills out as we want her to get her personal mail. She uses cash to pay her helpers and we are thinking that a separate checking account with a smaller balance might be the answer. I am thinking about how to get her to agree to all of this.

She did agree, at least in one phone call, to discuss her preferences under various scenarios for the future. I told her I wanted to write them down so we would all know what she wanted so we could try to make it happen if at all possible.

I am looking for ideas as to how I can help in additional ways. It is hard on the sibling who lives close to have so much of the burden. Ideas?


  1. You are very smart to use the techniques you have!

  2. It's hard to do this long distance. I'm glad you have the support of your brother. Many times dysfunction in the family dynamics can cause havoc as adult children try to provide care and support for elderly parents.

    It sounds like you are considering the important things, such as bill paying and doctor appointments. The finances are often one of the first to suffer from the confusion that comes with dementia. It sounds like she listens to you, so your supportive role on the phone to her is very important.

    I remember when my dad was still alive, when he became impossibly confused, my mom would call me and I was able to talk to him on the phone, giving him reassurance.

    The fact that you are very sensitive to the burden on your brother and SIL is admirable. I think it must be especially hard because you want to be there to help more, but can't.

    I really don't have any other suggestions for you, but it sounds like you are in tune with your brother and SIL's needs, and that you have the sensitivity necessary when interacting with your mom to guide her at this difficult time in her life.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I have to mention that any ability I have to deal with my Mom when she is "difficult" is hard won. Most of the time she is great though and both my parents have never shirked from sharing info about their finances or talking about death. I know I am one of the lucky ones too having a brother and SIL who are so committed to caring for her.