Life doesn’t turn out exactly how it should all the time. Ideally, we would all live close enough to our aging parents and grandparents to help them, but things change. You may have gotten a job in a far away place, or your partner or immediate family’s needs took you away from your hometown.

Regardless of the reason for your move, it can be difficult to face the reality that we cannot spend as much time with our aging loved ones as we may like. You may only see your loved one a few times a year for holidays. This means it can feel like health problems come out of the blue when in reality, they have been developing slowly over time.

This can be disheartening, but just because you’re far away, doesn’t mean you can’t keep tabs on them. Here are some tips to help long-distance caregivers stay aware of their loved one’s health.

Visual Changes

It’s 2019, and we are lucky enough to not have to be in the same room as someone to see them. We have a whole range of ways to see our loved one’s faces, even across the country. It’s so easy to take selfies or get on social media these days, many aging adults have no trouble picking them up. Video chatting, such as through FaceTime or Skype, is also a very easy way to communicate that allows you to see your elderly loved one.

When you use one of these visual options, look at your loved one’s appearance. Some physical symptoms are very evident when you see someone’s face, and these can indicate an underlying health problem. Consider changes in:

  • Expression — do they appear tired, “not all there,” or emotionless?
  • Hygiene — do they look like their usual put-together selves, or are they looking haggard and unkempt?
  • Mobility — are they struggling to move or stand while you’re talking?

Observe their surroundings when you video chat. There may be signs that they aren’t keeping up with basic household chores, or there may be hazards such as exposed cords or clutter on the floor that are perilous to them.

Auditory Changes

When you’re chatting with your loved one, also pay attention to any auditory cues. Do they sound calm, or do they sound uneasy or stressed? Is their voice quivering? Are they slurring or stuttering? Are they clearing their throat more than normal? These can all indicate underlying conditions that need to be checked out by a doctor.

Also pay attention to the contents of the conversation. Is your loved one repeating the same question again and again? Are they forgetting that you’ve already talked about something? Forgetful moments happen to all of us, but if this is a pattern you keep noticing, it may indicate early-stage dementia, a side effect of medication, or an underlying mental health condition.

Speaking of mental health conditions, it’s important to pay attention to your loved one’s moods. Everyone has down days, but if you are noticing your loved one being very negative, you should ask further questions. Maybe they’re not feeling well and feeling frustrated. Perhaps they have a case of the “winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder. Be a listening ear, and give their doctor or home health aide a call if you’re concerned.

Talking About Your Concerns

If you are concerned, it’s important to make sure your loved one is safe, but also be respectful of their feelings. You may have the best intentions, but your loved one may end up feeling defensive if they sense you questioning their independence. Many seniors don’t want to be a “burden” or seen as “weak,” and therefore will avoid speaking up when they need help.

Instead of making assumptions, ask questions. Some that may help include:

  • How is your health?
  • How is the house?
  • We just winterized the house — who is taking care of that for you this year?

Your loved one may insist that everything is fine or avoid answering directly. Have patience. You may try casually offering help. For example, you might say, “I have a friend in your area who is looking for work. Could I send him to your house to take care of the gutters?” They may still refuse help, and that’s okay. Just make a note to yourself to check in again soon. Keep in mind that many aging adults have no trouble staying independent for a long time, and this may be very important to your loved one. You might approach your offer as a way they may help you — you feel so happy when you have the opportunity to help in some way.

If you’re in the market for a home health aide in Fort Collins, we would be happy to offer our services. Contact us today!