If you have a parent who lives a great distance from you and they now need or may soon need your assistance this article is for you. What you’ll end up with is all the information you need to completely care for a parent remotely using online resources.
I started caring for my father who lives in California while I live in Nevada 17 months ago. It is working out extremely well.
If you consider these alternatives, taking care of a parent remotely using online resources makes a lot of sense.
- Move-in with your parent.
- Move to a location near your parent.
- Move the parent in with you.
- Pay a company for in-home care of your parent.
- Pay an assisted living facility to care for your parent.
The above alternatives were not possible at the time and frankly, not desirable. So I sought an alternative that came to me rather quickly. First, some background.
I’ve been handling my personal and business activities online since the early 2000s. The first online resource I used was Net Bank, the original pioneer to offer online banking. Net Bank was eventually sold and I continued with the new bank. Now that all brick-and-mortar banks are online, I’m with one of them, US Bank, which I love!
I’ve been paying some, now all, my bills online since the early 2000s as well. When I started many people thought I was crazy because they thought it was too risky. That was true of all internet money transactions back then though. But the online thieves were not yet established so it was pretty safe. Now it’s very safe.
When large stores like Walmart starting selling online, I immediately opened up an account. As my knowledge of their system grew I bought more.
My father is in his nineties, healthy, still lives on his own, and drives, but only occasionally during the day for short distances. Due to his declining ability to drive, I decided it was best that he not drive to the store for food or supplies anymore. In addition, I noticed his handwriting on the envelopes he’d snail mail to me containing inspiring notes and later needed documents were growing less legible. This would be a major problem when it came to paying bills by hand the old fashion way, which he did. So I decided it was time for me to take over these responsibilities as well. I got labels made of our addresses (to/from) so he could reliably snail mail things to me.
I knew that it would be a lot of work to set up, but it was the right thing to do.
There are two important factors for making the setup process stress-free and successful: Zen patience and Zen attitude. Have patience in advance by expecting that there will be long telephone hold times, problems, and delays. You’ll preserve your health, feel good about yourself, and get 10 times more from customer service representatives by having a pleasant, respectful, patient, and uplifting attitude. It truly works like magic. It really does. I describe the amazing results I’ve had in this article about getting good customer service.
The transition to fully caring for my father remotely online took several weeks to set up but now nearly everything works automatically with relatively little time and effort on my part. The most time-consuming part was setting up all the online accounts. The main reason it took so long was that my father had no email address or cell phone number in the accounts. These are needed for verification and secure access.
I also set up everything on my own without any assistance from any family members. I may write about that selfishness in another article.
If your parent does not have an email address like mine didn’t, to enhance creditability it’s important that you create one and then set up forwarding to your personal email. For security purposes, do not use their full name or other sensitive information, but do include their first name (only) for easy identification and differentiation. I recommend using Gmail as it has the best security and features that I know of, including forwarding, and it’s free!
Use your own number so that when online accounts need verification or when important information is sent you’ll get it immediately. Note: If your parent used their own cell (or landline) phone number or email in any of their accounts, you will need the number(s) and address. In addition, you may need to coordinate new account verifications with them so they pass on the verification codes they receive to you. Then once you create, or gain access (to existing), online accounts you can put in your own cell phone number and their new email address.
Setting up autopay for all my father’s accounts was the most time-consuming and difficult part of the entire project. But once it was done, everything was automatic and I had full control. Here are the reasons.
- My father had no email address or cell phone number in any of his accounts, as I mentioned before. So in many cases, I had to call customer service to verify ownership and open an account.
- A couple of companies had more robust verification procedures.
- A couple of company websites were not user-friendly.
- Each company’s website was different.
Tip: Do not represent yourself as your parent “if asked by a representative,” especially with high-security accounts like banks, Social Security, Medicare, and insurance companies that likely have their birthdate and other identifying information. If they ask, you sense the need, or the situation calls for it, just tell them who you are and why and what you’re doing. Some may ask you to do a three-way call with your parent for verification purposes, so be prepared for that possibility.
With most of the accounts, I was able to set up autopay using his credit card (the most desirable) or his bank checking account. The odd ones like monthly payments to his gardener and church (tithing) were set up in his online bank account using automatic paper check payment by snail mail.
Food and supplies
I set up food delivery with Walmart. In addition to food, you can also include many other supplies and special need items in the order. Then all of it is delivered together. Walmart charges a small annual fee for this, but it is worth much more. You also need to tip the delivery driver, which you can do along with the order inside the account. We started out doing orders every two weeks. By purchasing a mini freezer, we are now able to do them once a month, which is much less work.
Though grocery orders from Walmart are usually very good, sometimes one or two things may be out of stock or you might get a fresh fruit or vegetable item that is in poor condition — just as you might when shopping in-person. So do not expect perfection every time. Returns, however, are easy. You can do them right in your online account via the order page and get a refund instantly in many cases.
If you have a problem or they want you to return the item to the store, which defeats the purpose of delivery IMO, you can click Help under Customer Service at the bottom of the page and call or chat with an agent. I find that chat works best as it’s the easiest way to provide needed information like order numbers, item descriptions, prices, etc. Whether via a chat or a call, in my experience they almost always do a refund with no return required. And the agents work hard to make you happy.
The best days for full stock and superior service (less busy) are Friday, Thursday, and Wednesday in that order. The worst days are Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The best delivery reservation time is the first (earliest) one of the day to get maximum cool temperature for food needing refrigeration and to get the best selection and service by fresh, unhurried workers.
Nutrition and exercise
Now that I’m buying all of my father’s food, I have been able to transform his diet to be 100 times healthier. No exaggeration.
One of the many advantages of buying food online for delivery at Walmart is the easy access to the Nutrition Facts label, which is prominently shown on each product’s page. This is particularly helpful for eliminating high sodium and high bad fat products. In addition, being a vegan I’ve even been successful in getting him to like plant-based products that replace unhealthy animal-based products like chili, enchiladas, lasagna, and more.
I also got him to start taking a walk before breakfast every day. I had been trying to get him to do that for years! His doctor was doing the same. Now he loves it. It has improved his mood, his mobility, and his morning stiffness is gone. I repeatedly said to him, “To have the best quality life, exercise, diet, and attitude are the keys.”
To partner with him and be an example, I increased my exercise, refined my diet, lost a few pounds, and started reading many more books than I ever have.
I handle special purchases like medical equipment, gardening supplies, and more through Walmart and Amazon. If I can’t find what I need at those stores, I buy it at Target, Costco, Best Buy, and others. After several purchases show an ongoing need, I opened online accounts for these stores in my father’s name. Doing this keeps things separate and tidy.
High security accounts
There will be a number of high-security accounts you may need or want to open online. These include ones like banks, credit cards, Medicare, and (especially) Social Security that will require more extensive verification.
You will likely be asked questions that are tied to the three main credit agencies; Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; during the online process to open an account. So you need to be extremely careful or you’ll get locked out. Unless you know your parent’s entire work, purchase, credit, address, and phone history, I strongly recommend that you go through the entire account opening process with your parent on the phone.
I thought I knew everything when I attempted to open an online Social Security account. I missed one small obscure, unimportant credit incident and was locked out! I had to contact the local Social Security office near my father’s house by phone and go through a long explanation and verification procedure before they would unlock the account so that I could try to open an online account again.
You’ll of course need your parent’s credit card information for various purposes. For travel to your parent’s location and while visiting there, it’s important to get a copy of their main credit card in your name. I just did this and was able to get it done via his online credit card account. The number on the card was different to keep the charges separate, but all the charges for my father and me go on the same bill. Be sure to get your parent’s permission before doing this.
Maintaining honesty and resisting any temptations to buy yourself stuff, or reimburse yourself a bit, or outright stealing money is not a problem for most people. But for immature, bitter, misguided, or addicted individuals it may be a problem. I strongly recommend this: Do not do it no matter what because you’ll live with it for the rest of your life including when you are elderly and dependent on the assistance of another person.
Local emergency access
It is essential to entrust one local person, like a family member or close friend, with a key to your parent’s home should urgent entry be required. This person must be absolutely trustworthy, reliable, and live within minutes of your parent’s residence. They also must be willing and able to act quickly on short notice.
I’ve only needed to ask this designated person once to check on my father after a minor surgery when he didn’t respond by phone as planned. It turned out that he had simply fallen asleep as soon as he got home after the ordeal, which is understandable since he had been given a sedative during the surgery.
Some customer service departments like those at medical insurers, credit card companies, and banks require that they have your name on file. This requires that you either have your parent call them or that you do a three-way call. Your parent will be asked to provide the usual verification information.
Be sure to coach your parent on what kind of information can and cannot be provided to customer service representatives, medical and dental office staff, and on their new patient forms. For example, every new patient form I’ve ever seen asks for social security and driver’s license numbers. Neither of these numbers is needed by a doctor, ever! You don’t want that highly sensitive and identity stealing information to fall into the hands of a rogue employee. I believe doctors ask for this and other information for their benefit to use if a bill doesn’t get paid.
The same goes for all the other information that doctors and all other companies ask for on new customer forms. Only enter information that you want them to have and nothing more.
Investing the time to get organized is essential to making the job of caring for a parent remotely much easier. It will also help keep you calm and sane.
Getting organized requires that you put all your parent’s various accounts, doctors, and medications information in one place. I did this using Microsoft Excel and Word. I have all 23 accounts in Excel and all his doctors, medications, and favorite foods in Word. I also printed and mailed him a simplified version of each in large 28pt font. His having this information helps us both.
Over the years I’ve often heard how advanced age people in need of assistance often get demanding, selfish, and needy. These behaviors are completely uncharacteristic of my father, but they have manifested to a level where I was forced to set boundaries.
He was frequently calling me many times a day to do things for him. This often happened when the request was unimportant and not urgent. He was also asking me to do projects for his friends.
Due to the nature of my work as a blogger, writer, and webmaster, I require large blocks of uninterrupted time, as I explained to him. Also, I do not like to be disturbed in the evening and on weekends, as I further explained to him.
I set these boundaries with him: Except in the case of an emergency, try to call me between 2-4 pm during the week. Avoid calling during the evening and on weekends, which I designed as my time off. And no projects for his friends.
These boundaries might sound too strict, but they are necessary so that you don’t get burned out and lose your patience, which I did recently. Although what he did was out of bounds, I greatly regretted sounding off. But I learned from it and I know it will never happen again.
Remember, empathize, and enjoy
Constantly remind yourself of their age. This helps me a lot. I try to think of his age and condition before each call.
Imagining what it’s like to be their age and living with declining health, sight, and hearing can help create empathy in you. It has worked wonders for me. It encourages me to provide meaningful support during difficult situations for my father.
Focus on enjoying them fully while they are still alive. Tell them you love them. It helps them to hear that at their age. My father and I are telling each other, “I love you” for the first time in our lives. They also greatly value getting phone calls from you.
Finally, appreciate the opportunity, responsibility, and importance of the work you are doing. I know that I’m pleased with myself for doing it. Even though I might be able to dig up reasons or excuses for not doing so, I know I’d regret it because it is the right thing to do. I strongly recommend you do the same. You’ll be proud that you did and you’ll stand taller as a man or woman for having done so.