As the verse in Vayikra states, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” Helping our older adults is a deep value of Judaism and our community cares for its aging loved ones, whether they are parents, relatives or good friends.
Caring can be challenging, especially from far away. If you can’t be close to your loved ones, there are ways you can still ensure that they are safe, healthy and cared for.
One concept to keep in mind when caregiving is “nothing for us without us.” Whenever we serve as caregivers, we must remember that older adults are adults first and should have a say in how their aging journeys will look. We should not make decisions for them, thinking we know better than they do. Always talk to your loved ones and make choices with them — together. While the conversations may need to change when someone has cognitive impairments, the conversations should still take place so we know what our family members’ preferences are. Keeping this in mind, here are some ways you can care for your loved ones from a distance.
Use technology to your advantage
In the new tech age, communication has become much easier and allows people to stay in touch from far away. Tablets, smartphones and home devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have all increased the ability to be in touch with loved ones quickly and easily. Many of the standard technology devices have simplified versions that even people with cognitive impairment can use. These devices allow families to remain in touch across generations. My children have grown up living far from their grandparents, but through Skype, Google Meet and FaceTime have established strong relationships with all of them.
Technology can also keep everyone on the same page by using shared calendars and notes apps. They allow you to share information with loved ones and vice versa. Medical system portals can help maintain correct medical information and open communication with doctors. And online banking can help keep seniors and their families safe from financial exploitation from strangers.
Use local services to help
Private caregivers can be a proxy for families. Hiring trusted people to help care for aging adults in their own homes or wherever they may live allows you to know that they are safe and cared for. Maintaining good communication with those aides is key to ensuring that trusted relationships remain just that.
You can also connect with local senior service providers; programs and services of all kinds exist to help your loved ones. They can help with transportation, classes, social events, doctors’ appointments and more. Additionally, you can connect with other people in the area. While we say it takes a village to raise children, it also takes a village to help older adults remain in the community. So be sure to meet their doctors, their neighbors, their friends, their rabbis and other people around them, because if they are important to your loved ones, they should be important to you, too.
Make a plan for emergencies
Emergencies can and do happen, and being prepared for them, whether you live near or far, is an important part of caregiving and growing older. Be sure that all needed legal documents are in place, like powers of attorney and advance medical directives. Talk to your loved ones about their wishes before a crisis occurs. Collect important phone numbers and information in one accessible place. For example, use a form or spreadsheet that allows you to aggregate data on everything from bank accounts to lawyers’ names to insurance information to email passwords. You hope to never need any of it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Care for yourself
Finally, be sure to care for yourself. Caregiver burnout can happen no matter how close you live to your aging loved one. Stress and guilt from caregiving are common but do not need to be part of your story. Taking the time to tend to your needs is a selfless act that allows you to continue to care for yourself and others. Therapy, support groups and community services exist to help you with your caregiving journey.
If you find yourself in the situation of caring for an aging family member from a distance, know that you are not alone. Organizations like AgeWell Pittsburgh and the Area Agency on Aging exist to help you understand the options available and to ensure you have the support you need.
Aging is part of life for all of us. If you find yourself helping a loved one as they age, even from a distance, you can find ways to make navigating the journey not only easier but more enjoyable as well. PJC
Stefanie Small is the director of JFCS Clinical Services.