by francy Dickinson www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Dear Francy; Mom is 68 and living alone in Utah, I’m in California. She is well, doing fine, but how to do I know if she is fine- how can I care for her long distance?
My mother was on her own since she lost Dad- at 62. So my sisters and I started to check in with her on a daily basis from that time forward. Mother was strong and working until she was 70, she lived on her own until she was 95. But she needed to have assistance to be on her own all those years and it started out with the check-in phone calls. I think this is why she was so independent, because we all had our place in her life and did different things to keep her protected and engaged. So, let’s start at the top and just talk about the check-in calls.
Very few children understand that older people need to have a rutter to keep going in the right direction in their life. They do not need to have someone driving them crazy and telling them what to do, just someone checking in with them and keeping them on point. I think the best place to start is if you do not want to be checking in with your parents or senior friend or family member on a daily basis.
If you are someone that is really busy and does not want to be tied down to check in calls each day…then hire it done. Because some one has to do it. If you live out of town or within driving distance you still need to have someone do a daily check in with your parent that is over 65. Now I am talking about a parent in good health, or bad – who lives alone. Find a person to do the check-in. You can find a senior neighbor, or a young mother who could use a little gas money while they try to stay at home to raise their children. You could use a care service if your senior needs a little more than a phone call. Find your check-in person in your seniors own neighborhood, or at the local church. Make sure it’s a person that is safe and would not harm your senior or steal from them. Then ask them to call each day, or stop by and take in their mail. That way the person is able to see how your senior is doing and report if there is anything out of order, or different about the senior.
Now, YOU…you can take 5 minutes out of your morning to check in with your parent or senior. You simply make a daily time to call. You can set up your watch to remind you and you call and make it short. This is not your usual chit chat call that you make a couple of times a week, this is a check in call and you have specific questions to ask the senior and then you hang up and get back to work.
Senior Check-In call:
- Set a time each morning that is good for you both. Some seniors are early risers and some have sleeping problems and do not wake up until after 9:30AM so find out their pattern and work with their needs, not yours. What ever time it is – set it in your life like clock work. Set your watch or cell phone to a daily alarm to remind you where ever you are to call the senior. If you’re out of town, then check out the Magic Jack that is only $20 a year to call via your computer. Its easy to use and a terrific help with long distance calling.
- When you call you are first going to listen for their voice tone. That is why you need to call when you know they are up and starting their day. Their tone should be strong, if it is weak or sounds like it comes from the back of their throat, there could be problems. Emotional problems are often first noticed with a strange lower than normal voice pitch. So just listen, how do they speak, they may take a few moments to warm up, but they should be alert in their speech patterns. If you hear slurring or mumbling or they sound strange, they you are alerted that something is going on that needs to be checked out by a person in their town (or you) that can drop by and see your parent and make sure everything is A-OK
- Ask them the same questions each day; “Hi, mother, how is your morning?” – “Have you eaten, yet? – what did you have” – “Did you take your meds this morning? If not, do it now while we are talking” – What’s your plan for today?” – “Good, well I have to get back to work, good to hear you’re busy and feeling well I’ll talk to you later.” That is it.
- You want to know if they are up and moving, if they are sick, is it like a small cold or flu and they need some extra over the counter supplies to help them through it – or do they feel sick or weak in the morning and that may mean a doctor visit to schedule. Do they complain about a lot of pain? Then always ask them, “What number is your pain if you have 0 for none and 5 for going to the doctor?”
- Do they remember the day? Remember they have an appointment they have been talking about for the last week? Do they have something in their day to do and already planned? Emotional health is someone with a plan, small or large- a plan for the day. Are they going out to work in the garden or do chores around the house, meeting friends for cards or lunch, watching a special show on news or their favorite morning TV shows? Something that shows they are keeping a life in order and not just sitting with nothing to do.
- Are they physical? Are they doing a morning stretch and exercise, from a walk to a exercise with the TV’s “Sit and Stretch” lady on PBS? Make sure you encourage them to MOVE…get up walk around and keep those legs working.
- Are they eating? Make sure their breakfast is something that is healthy. Are they eating donuts or just a piece of toast, or fixing a good cereal with a fruit topping each day? Do they hate to cook? Then they should have a yogurt or an energy drink to start their day. Common sense is what you are calling about and you need to nudge them into the common sense side of life in your morning calls.
- Do they follow through with tasks? Did they say they were going to take out the garbage yesterday and now, today they are saying they are going to take it out again. This could show they are not following through with simple tasks. It may be a sign of loneliness, depression, or early dementia. These are the things you are looking for each day. Not that you can wave a wand and change their life, but if they have someone to talk to and to check-in with, they are more likely to finish tasks.
- Are they going out? You can take note of where they’re going and just know that if they are going out you will want to make a quick call that afternoon or evening and check that they got back home safely, or ask them to call you back when they get in the door.
- Do they have a cell phone on them at all times? Having a phone by their bed or chair does not help them if they get in trouble with a fall or sickness. A cell phone in their breast pocket so they can hear it, or around their neck in a holder or lanyard is what they need to do each day. If they fall or get in trouble, help is just a phone call away. I like cell phones but if they need one, then get them a medical alert system, either way…they need to know they have a way to call for help.
- Are they bored and just want to talk? You have to get this taken care of right off the bat. The morning check-in means you just check in…as you learn to listen to their daily needs it will get shorter and shorter. You have to set the rules here, let them know you care about them, but you are at work and a quick call is all the time you can give them. If they need you for a problem to call you during the day – otherwise your chat calls are for after work.
- Do they hate to have you call and resent it? Then sit down with them and tell them you are so busy that you do not have time to do an in person check in each day. So you need to do it on the phone each morning. You look forward to hearing their voice and knowing they are well and doing fun things for the day. Make it about you, not about them. Parents and seniors always respond better to doing things for others, then doing them for their own good.
- What if they need you and you are at work or out of town? That is when you need to have a back up to your calls. A relative that you can call, a next door neighbor, a person that you have pre-set as a drop in back up to check on your senior – in person. I will tell you that a neighbor is usually the best bet. You will find other seniors in the area, a close friend or faith center friend, a card playing friend and so on that will drop by and make sure your parent is OK. If they are not they go to the doctor or the ER.
Living alone is a long line of days that are empty. It takes a while for anyone to adjust to life on their own again. If you parent is just newly widowed then it is part of your love to them, to check in each day and know that you need to suggest things to the parent to keep them a float. “Mom how about making that good soup you like to make this week and we can all come over on Thursday and have a quick dinner with you. We can not stay, just a drop by, have soup, hug you and off night, but it would be nice to give Joyce a night off from cooking and to see you at the same time- OK?” Give them something to do, something to look forward to, the transition to being alone is really difficult and a caring friend or relative can make a huge difference.
I have so much more on giving care in my Care-Givers Workbook 101, please come and visit my website www.seniorcarewithspirit.com and check out the book in both printed and eBook format to easily download. Thanks for all you do for your mom…francy