Long-distance caregiving can be challenging due to the inability to be as “hands-on” as you would like. It is natural to have questions and concerns when filling the role of a caregiver, particularly when dealing with sensitive information and vital medical responsibilities. Here are some ways you can care for your loved one from afar with ease.
These days, we are living in a much more mobile society. Elderly parents may choose to retire to warmer climates, and adult children may move away for job opportunities. We may not think about our parents falling ill or losing their independence until that day is upon us. Caring for an aging parent is a responsibility few people expect or envision.
There are 34.2 million family (unpaid) caregivers in the United States who take care of a loved one 50 years and older. Of those, 15% are living an hour or more away. Distance plays a vital role in family decision-making in how and who will handle the responsibilities associated with the care of loved ones.
Whether you live a mile away, an hour away, or in another state, caregiving for a close family member presents its challenges. For those living at a distance, logistical and financial responsibilities pose additional difficulties when planning for the right care for mom or dad.
There is no one right way to be a caregiver; everyone’s situation is unique to them. Despite the challenges involved, long-distance caregiving can be achieved with planning and preparation. Below are some tips to ensure your loved one receives the best possible care when you are unable to be present.
If the responsibility of long-distance caregiving has fallen in your lap, it is essential that you be proactive in managing even the finest details early on.
Gather Sensitive Information
The primary care provider will be responsible for several tasks, including but not limited to:
- Coordinating medical services
- Handling financial matters
- Managing at-home care and oversight
Plan a visit with mom or dad to gain a better understanding of how they are dealing with their health and home needs, what their day-to-day expenses are, and how medical costs are being handled.
Financials and Insurance
Discussing finance and insurance matters is never easy. However, you will need access to some sensitive information to help your loved one if they can no longer speak for themselves. Gather medical insurance details such as Medicare or Medicaid coverage as well as policy numbers for auto, home, and life insurance.
Additionally, you will need to know about and have access to financial records like savings and investments, and be aware of any outstanding debt. Knowledge will help if decisions need to be made regarding a move to assisted living or if hiring private health care can be afforded.
It is essential to have all of your parent/s medical history, past and present, documented. All illnesses, conditions, and medications, including the dosage and number of times taken, should be recorded. Also, take note of all doctor’s names (primary and specialists), their contact information, and instructions for medical emergencies. Be sure family members and health care providers can easily access this crucial resource.
Hopefully, your parent(s) can work with you to locate essential documents and communicate end-of-life wishes, which will help you assist in their health care management. Having the authority to make financial and medical decisions on behalf of your loved one in the event of an emergency will require certain documents to be in place.
Legal documents, such as Power of Attorney for Health Care and Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Management, should be prepared before a health condition makes it impossible to do so. Having these documents in order will allow you to access vital medical information, participate in conversations with medical professionals, and make medical decisions when your loved one cannot.
A Team of Family And Friends
It is natural for long-distance caregivers to feel guilty about delegating specific jobs. Still, you will need others to be your eyes, ears, and hands to help with essential tasks you are unable to do remotely.
Form a care team of siblings, relatives, and friends who are close by and willing to offer assistance. Have a substantive discussion with participants to coordinate roles and responsibilities so everyone is contributing in a way that is sensible and feels fair. Care can be shared based on skill or geography. A sibling or relative that lives closer may be able to visit more often, while someone who is financially savvy could pay the bills. Sharing responsibilities will relieve the pressure that may be associated with just one caregiver handling all of the tasks.
Get to know your parent’s neighbors, close friends, and clergy members. They are the people who interact with your loved ones and can provide perspective and an immediate account of their well-being.
Using Technology As An Aid
You may live in one city and your loved one/s in another. However, with advancements in technology, you can easily stay in touch with mom and dad. Email, Skype, text, and FaceTime are excellent communication tools to get some literal “face time” and help your elderly parents from a distance.
Setting up a home computer or laptop will reassure your loved one that you are only a “few clicks” away while allowing you as the caregiver to quickly access medical updates. Schedule regular conference calls or video meetings with your caregiving team to get updates on your loved one’s well-being and get clarity to any questions you may have. Be sure to provide a tutorial for new users and leave step-by-step written instructions.
If your loved one wishes to live in the comforts of their own home, modifications should be made to the house to ensure safety. Consider outfitting the home with:
- A medical alert system to bring aid in the event of an emergency or fall
- Install handrails and grab bars
- Ramps to replace stairs if wheelchair use is necessary
- Install strobe lights to indicate smoke alarms and doorbells
- Clear clutter and remove area rugs that are trip hazards
Meet Medical Care Staff
When visiting, take the opportunity to accompany your loved one to doctor appointments. This way, you can meet primary care providers and stay informed about health and treatment plans. Understanding the care plan and developing a relationship with the medical team will help when you need to check-in from a distance.
Coordinate Local Assistance
The day will come that your loved one will need more than what you can offer from a distance – daily care. Conduct some local research online and by phone to learn about in-home care services, day-time services for adults, and respite services for primary caregivers.
In-home care teams can provide a multitude of services to help the senior in your life live comfortably at home. Skilled nursing staff can provide medical assistance by monitoring their physical condition and administering medications. They can also help with the more personal daily responsibilities, such as grooming, bathing, and tasks around the household.
The worry that comes from long-distance caretaking can be overwhelming at times. Not having immediate access to an aging parent can be stressful. Wherever you live, you are not alone as a long-distance caregiver. Support networks are available, and talking to others can provide significant emotional support.