Ways to Help a Recovering Senior Addict Parent from a Distance

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By Marie Villeza, Guest Columnist

When your senior parent is fighting addiction in a recovery treatment center, and you live far away, it becomes difficult to identify what you can do to help her. Recognized as an “invisible epidemic,” many relatives of seniors hooked on drugs or alcohol first have problems accepting the grandmother of the family needs professional rehabilitation help. The standard public imagination resists the idea of a “sweet” senior being hooked on drugs or alcohol.

As a result, family members suffer a spectrum of raw negative emotions over the discovery of the problem, such as guilt, shame, worry, fear, frustration and anger. Emotions aside, the practical problems that come with addressing the addiction further inflict family stress and anxiety. These largely entail shouldering the financial costs, and contending with the fact that you, the child, lives far away from the addicted senior.

When moving closer to your afflicted parent is impossible, what can you do to fulfill your role and duty of long-distance caretaker family member?

Here are some steps you can take to ease the process of recovery for your parent:

Get Clear on Legal, Financial Matters

Dig into the financial, medical and legal matters of your beloved senior in addiction recovery. Depending on how long their addiction habit had been nursed by your parent before the problem was detected, and especially if your parent had been living alone, your addicted loved one may have been burning up money and credit to cover her substance abuse problem. Your job here is to find out the full state of her finances and medical history — her permission or the law allowing — and moving forward with any legal matters that require attention.

Under a power of attorney, enlist the help of your parent’s stockbroker, attorney, and/or financial planner. They can help you work out a financial and legal plan to cover long-term costs of the treatment, as long as this may last. Such planning will minimize family disagreements and protect your parent’s income and assets as she battles her addiction problem. Make sure you have easy access to information on your parent’s insurance documents, bank accounts, assets, titles and sources of income.

Build a Network of Local Support

Having a reliable network of people who live close to your beloved parent during, and after, treatment is essential. Such individuals include family members who live relatively nearby, friends of the family, neighbors and religious community leaders. When you first visit your parent in the treatment center, meet up with candidate friends and neighbors who would be willing to report to you on the status of your parent. The idea is to have them call you with firsthand information, for example, when your loved one doesn’t return your calls. Not only will they help ease your concerns, they may also be willing to carry out some needed tasks.

Book Formal Services

When spending time with your parent, consult with her addiction therapists on what third-party services would help optimize her self-care and recovery. Such services include transportation help, telephone check-ins, a professional caregiver, a fitness coach, periodic companions, etc. The local department on aging can provide you with information on these complementary services.

Make the Most Out of Your Visits

Besides the practical tasks that need to be taken care of whenever you are visiting your loved one at the recovery center, carve out time to be fully emotionally available to her as her therapy progresses. Talk to her counselors and be open to participating in sessions where you can play a role voicing your feelings over the emotional traumas and wounds inflicted by her addiction-fueled behaviors in the past.

Not only will this ultimately address your negative feelings over the problem, leading to a mending of fences between you and your parent, your therapist will be hearing your version of your parent’s story, which helps him or her better trace the psychological roots of your parent’s problem.

A Final Thought

Throughout the difficulty of tending to your parent from a distance while she fights her addiction demons, remember to hug yourself from time to time. You need to constantly acknowledge to yourself that you are simply doing the best you can under the circumstances. In practicing self-care, you will be most effective in meeting your recovering parent’s needs.

Build external resources for yourself, such as counseling or support groups, and don’t neglect your spirit rejuvenating hobbies and activities. Taking tender care of yourself is vital, which includes practicing the art of asking for help when you need it. Your own self-love and familial support will pull you through this difficult period.

Marie Villeza developed ElderImpact.org to provide seniors and their caregivers with resources and advice.


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