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Long-Distance Caregiving: 4 Tips

August 03, 2018

Caregiving for parents or other loved ones can be stressful – and when you live far away, the pressure can be even greater. 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 many things that can make your job a little easier.

The first thing to understand about long-distance caregiving is that you’re not alone, even though it can sometimes feel that way. AARP estimates that 11 percent 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.

1. Getting Started as a Caregiver

Your first step should be talking to your loved one about legal matters - this is sometimes a delicate conversation, but it could be critical in an emergency situation. Two important documents you should talk about 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. Talk to an attorney or financial advisor to help you go through the specifics.

2. Explore Local Services

If you’re caregiving from a distance, you’ll also want to make sure your loved one’s basic needs including nutrition and transportation are being met. The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator 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. Don’t forget the new technology services that are available as well—using Uber, Lyft or similar transportation services may be an option, and food delivery services like Freshly may be an alternative as well.

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.

3. Consider New Technologies

Technology is bringing us new ways to look after loved ones. 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 hi-tech advances include automatic pill-dispensing machines matched with medication monitoring services. These 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 if you miss a dose.

And with telehealth, like LiveHealth Online, patients can have virtual house calls with a doctor using their computer or mobile device. You don’t need an appointment and can use it anytime, and, in most states, get a prescription if you need it.

4. Stay Flexible

Remember: 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.