Cognitive neuroscientist and age specialist Dr Lynda Shaw is calling for better transparency and co-ordination of services and support for those trying to find a care home for a loved one from a distance.

“If you live away from your parents and with family or other work commitments of your own, you may only be able to visit for few days or weeks and need an organised way to find the right care home and possibly treatment for your parent. At the moment it’s a mammoth task, both organisationally and emotionally. What is needed is coordinated and experienced, expert guidance, so that those living away have practical and emotional support that smooth’s those difficult transitions easily and efficiently.

“There are companies which help those living away find the perfect residence for their elderly parent but there is so much to consider from all the administration and paperwork involved, to settling on an affordable financial plan for more long term patients, it is often overwhelming. Even if you are able to afford private care homes, often social services need to be involved but may not be able to move at the speed you need them to when you live apart.”

Emotionally it is a huge amount for the families to deal with. Dr Shaw says: “The pressure of organising a care home for a loved one from a distance can be an incredibly stressful experience. Choosing the right care home for your loved one can be a daunting process at the best of times, not least because we want to ensure the level of care they receive is deservedly of the highest standard for their personal and medical needs but which also meets our budget. The pressure is of course heightened should you be living abroad. You might also have to be dealing with a difficult diagnosis so it’s a tornado of emotions.”

“Many of us have feelings of guilt that consume us when we can’t look after our parents in our own home.  When the parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, the distance may leave the children feeling powerless, unsure of whom to trust. When we feel out of control the stress hormone cortisol takes its toll, exacerbated by an enormous roller coaster of emotions including guilt and anxiety. Since cortisol affects neurotransmitters, it means that we find it hard to concentrate, feel motivated or even sleep and eat properly, and are therefore not functioning well when we need to be at our most alert!”

Dr Shaw recently had a client who was living abroad but her mother was in a care home in the UK and she spent a considerable amount of money travelling backwards and forwards, most weekends, to see her for just a few short hours which was very unsettling for the mother who became very agitated. “Although my client felt she was doing her best, she was spiralling out of control. I was able to offer support, putting a few things in place that meant she no longer needed to have her finger constantly on the pulse. Subsequently her mother felt a lot happier, and she felt calmer relinquishing the need to jump on a plane every weekend, saving time, money and unnecessary worry. They now enjoy a long distance relationship with plenty of laughter and fun!”

Tips on coordinating care from a distance

  • Look in detail about what type of person the parent is?  Do they enjoy company or prefer to be on their own? Do they join in and willingly go with what a group wants to do or do they think they're just doing silly games for old people.  What hobbies do they like? How able are they? Put into place bespoke strategies that really take into account their true personalities and what is important to them so that they can enjoy themselves.
  • Organise Skype for them so they can continue to have regular contact, even if remotely.
  • If they like to go out, make sure they have a regular excursion organised once a week.
  • Organise for other friends and family of all ages to visit relatively regularly. Older people often have a wide social circle but sometimes people aren’t sure of the visiting etiquette.

Dr Lynda Shaw offers an advisory service specialising in dealing with emotional issues associated with ageing.  Example work includes supporting families through a dementia diagnosis, what it means, what to expect, and how to make the best out of their long distance relationships. For more information visit