Caregivers must be available for their loved ones at varying times of the day. If there is an emergency and the caregiver is needed promptly, it would be convenient for a caregiver that lives 20 minutes or less away. The faster a caregiver can arrive, the quicker an issue will be resolved. But what about caregivers that aren’t in the neighborhood? They’re called long-distance caregivers.
If you are caring for elderly parents at a distance, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are approximately seven million long-distance caregivers, mostly caring for aging parents who live an hour or more away. Historically, caregivers have been primarily mid-life, working women who have other family responsibilities. However, more and more men are becoming caregivers, about 40 percent. Long-distance caregiving involves a variety of tasks, including helping manage the money to arranging for in-home care, providing respite care for a primary caregiver or helping a parent move to a new home or facility. Many act as information coordinators, helping aging parents understand the confusing maze of home health aides, insurance benefits and durable medial equipment.
Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving While caregiving can be stressful, long-distance caregiving can be even more difficult and challenging. BrightStar Naperville homecare provider have provided some great tips that they've found to be helpful with the families that they have worked with in these situations:
Create a Contact List Assemble address and phone numbers of friends, neighbors, doctors, faith leaders and others in regular contact with your parents who can be reached in the event of an emergency. Include at least one person close by who can easily check in on your loved one. Give one copy of this list to your loved one and keep a copy for yourself. These folks may also be able to help out with shopping, transportation or visits.
Collect Important Information Before a Crisis Keep the following information organized and easy to reach in the event of a crisis.
Medical Records Notes on their condition. A list of medications they take. Names and phone numbers of all doctors. Name and phone number of their pharmacy.
Insurance A list of insurance policies, the carriers and account numbers.
Utilities Company names and phone numbers for all utilities, including electric, phone, cable and Internet.
Financial A list of all assets and debts (include dollar values). Yearly or monthly income. Yearly or monthly expenses. A statement of net worth. Information on bank accounts, other financial holdings and credit cards.
Legal Relevant legal documents your loved one has or wants to create (i.e. wills, advance directives, trusts, powers of attorney). Location of important documents (i.e. birth certificates, deed to home). Social Security numbers.
When Visiting Before your visit, decide together with your loved ones what needs to be taken care of while you’re there, including scheduling any necessary appointments. Make a list of household items that need to be purchased and, if possible, go out and buy them. Allow time to go through mail and old papers. Take note of anything out of the ordinary and of what they eat. Check to see what they have in their refrigerator and pantry and if it’s sufficient. Look out for safety hazards such as loose rugs, missing handrails or poor lighting. Other items to assess include, are they:
- Socializing with friends and other relatives?
- Attending religious services or other regular events?
- Keeping up with chores, housekeeping, and maintenance?
- Maintaining their personal appearance and hygiene?
- Eating well with a variety of foods in the house?
- Opening and responding to correspondence from insurers, banks or others?
- Paying bills and balancing the checkbook?
- Scheduling and getting to doctor appointments or other important visits?
- Getting out to the store or recreational activities?
Gather Information on Community Services The Area Agency on Aging in your parent’s community is a good place to start. Look for services that fit the needs of your loved ones as well as an organization that can work with you long distance. Make a list of questions you want answered and be sure to have a contact person to follow up with.
Get Help with Managing the Care Most communities have professionals who can gauge your loved one’s abilities and needs and set up a plan for care. Another option is to hire a private geriatric care manager.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open Be sensitive to your parent’s view of the situation. At first they may not want strangers in their home, or they may have trouble facing change. Maintain a positive focus, explain how the services will work and that they are designed to help your parent remain independent.
Don’t Forget Your Needs Recognize the strain that long-distance caregiving causes, and take steps to reduce it. Accept that it’s impossible for you to provide all the help your parent needs. Give yourself credit for your efforts to determine needs, coordinate services and offer support by phone and occasional visits. Ask for help when you need it. If you don’t feel that other family members are doing their share, consider a family meeting to help resolve any issues.
Long Distance Caregiving Resources:
- Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving
- Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers
- Long Distance Caregiving