Caring for a Loved One from a DistanceAugust 03, 2018
Caregiving for parents or other loved ones from a distance can be stressful. You can’t always join them on their doctor visits or run over to check on them if a phone call raises questions. You also might have to be more organized than if you lived nearby. Fortunately, there are caregiving tips and resources that can make your job a little easier.
- Getting Started as a Caregiver
The first thing to understand about long distance caregiving is that you are not alone, even though it can sometimes feel that way. AARP estimates that 11% of all family caregivers live at least an hour away from their loved one. These individuals tend to spend more of their own money on caregiving by hiring local help and traveling for visits. You can help reduce both expenses and stress by developing a plan you can follow right from the start.
Your first step should be getting organized. For example, two important documents you should discuss with your loved one right away are a health care proxy and a legal power of attorney. A health care proxy allows your loved one’s doctors to speak with you about medical issues. A power of attorney could allow you or someone else to manage your loved one’s affairs if they become incapacitated. You might also suggest that you, another family member or trusted adviser become a cosigner on bank accounts to make remote bill paying easier if finances become difficult to manage.
The Family Caregiver Alliance created a checklist you can download and fill out, so these and other important documents are easier to access. This could be critical in an emergency situation.
- Explore Local Services
If you’re caregiving from a distance, making sure your loved one’s basic needs for nutrition and transportation are taken care of will be next on your to-do list. You can begin with online and phone research from your own home. The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator is a good place to start — it can help you find local service providers for Meals on Wheels programs and transportation assistance. If you’ve already reached out to your loved one’s local senior center, that group might also offer help, along with recommendations for home health aides and errand-running companions.
This might also be a good time to consider a geriatric case manager. These professionals are often trained in social work and/or nursing, and work with families and their loved ones to assess and recommend living situations and options. They can also become the point person to coordinate home health aides, medical appointments and other services. Geriatric care managers aren’t inexpensive, and they aren’t covered by Medicare or other insurance programs. But they can provide valuable advice, via a one-time consultation or on an ongoing basis. The Aging Life Care Association has a database of certified professionals you can search by location.
- Consider New Technologies
Technology is bringing us new ways to stay in touch with distant loved ones and help ensure they’re being looked after even if they live alone. Medical alert devices and monitoring services have been available for several decades, and new versions can be equipped with cellular service so they’ll even work when someone is away from their home. Some also feature sensors that can tell when someone has fallen and connect with monitoring services even if the user can’t push the call button.
Other technological advances include automatic pill-dispensing machines matched with medication monitoring services. The newest devices can be filled weeks in advance, provide spoken reminders for pills that might need to be taken with food or other specific instructions, and send alerts when doses are missed.
Telehealth is another option offered by some insurance providers that can help loved one's age in place. For example, with LiveHealth Online, patients can have virtual house calls with a physician using their computer or mobile device. This service doesn’t require an appointment and can even be available in the middle of the night, and in most states the physicians can write prescriptions.
- Stay Flexible
It’s also important for long-distance caregivers to remember that even the most thorough planning can need rethinking as a loved one’s health situation changes. A fall, declining memory or even a simple cold can lead to problems. But by taking time to develop support at the start of your caregiving efforts, you’ll have a baseline plan in place. Then you won’t be starting from scratch with each new complication.