Long Distance Caregiving
Today we live in a very mobile society. People move because of job relocation, a desire to live in more agreeable climate, amongst other reasons. Many older adults have adult children who live in different states or regions of the country.
When if comes to caregiving — it isn’t necessary or always possible for the caregivers to live in the same community as the older adult. If you live an hour or more away from the older adult, you are considered a long distance caregiver.
Families should decide together how to divide the caregiving responsibilities. It is best to have this discussion before the need arises and there is an emergency situation. If possible, include the older adult in this discussion and use his/her wishes as a basis for the plan.
There are many ways a person can help to care for their loved one from long distance.
One task that many long distance caregivers undertake is handling the older adult’s paperwork. The caregiver should create a file to have all the information in one place that can be easily accessed when the time comes. Include the older adult’s full name, birth date and place, a copy of the birth certificate, social security and medicare numbers, financial information such as income tax statements, credit card information, bill payment schedules, living will, durable power of attorney, and where any cash or valuables are stored.
Paperwork needs to be kept in order and up to date.
Research Community Services
The Internet is a tremendous resource for caregivers to research community services and nearby facilities. Compile a list of reputable agencies and facilities in community in case you need help in the future. Include home health agencies, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facitilities. It is important to be prepared in case of an unexpected illness or injury.
Research the community services that are available in the older adult’s community. Is there a nearby senior center to provide meals and social interaction?
Arrange for professional help
The situation may call for an expert to be there with the older adult. From long distance, a person can select a geriatic care manager. The geriatic care manager is a medical professional who can evaluate the older adult’s needs and coordinate care through local resources. The initial evaluation cost varies and may be expensive, but may be a valuable resource.
The long distance caregiver can research geriatic care managers online at http://www.caremanager.org/ and then interview prospects over the phone. Be sure to ask if the care manager is licensed, his/her availablitity, services provided, fees, experience, and references.
Long distance caregivers can provide emotional support the primary caregiver. Family members can help out by calling the older adult regularly.
A long distance caregiver can be the older adult’s communication point person. Making the phone calls to other relatives and friends and sending email updates is another way a person can contribute when they do not live near by.
Make a Visit:
If you live far away, but can make it there for an occasional visit - go prepared. In advance, make a list of possible problem areas to look into during the visit.
- Attend a doctor’s visit with the older adult. Have him or her sign a release of information form so the doctor’s office will share information with you after you return home. Be sure to give the office your contact information.
- Evaluate the older adult’s driving ability. This can be a very sensitive topic for the older adult. If you’re not able to have the conversation, talk about it with their doctor, geriatic caregiver, or other family members.
- Investigate the sorts of meals your loved one is able to make. Is he or she able to go to the grocery store and prepare healthy meals? If not, research to see if the community offers Meals on Wheels or the local senior center serves low cost lunches.
- Is the home safe? Put new batteries in the smoke detectors. Is the electic and plumbing in good working order? Install grab bars in the bathroom. Is the home free of clutter? Is it clean?
- Assess your loved ones personal care. Do you they have body odor? Are they able to wash properly and are they keeping good care of their teeth or dentures? Poor hygiene can be a sign of depression or early dementia.
- Does the older adult have a personal emergency response system? There are advancing technologies coming out regularly, including buttons that can sense a fall if someone cannot push it, GPS systems, monitoring systems, medication reminders and more.
As in with any caregiving situation, it is important to know your strengths and to set your limits.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News