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Advice on How to Be a Long-Distance Caregiver

Adult children with aging parents face very real challenges when it comes to providing care as they decline in health and require additional support. Many adult children who act as caregivers for their parents are often still working or raising families of their own. In addition, many of them are navigating the nuances of caregiving while living long-distance. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, of the 34 million Americans who provide care to older family members, 15 percent are long-distance caregivers. Long-distance caregivers, or those who live more than an hour away from those they are providing care for, face several unique challenges. Many long-distance caregivers are responsible for coordinating local care, hiring help, and managing their parents’ finances and doctor’s appointments all while taking uncompensated time off of work and paying for travel expenses. While caregiving from a distance can present many unique challenges, they can provide quality care and support from afar.  

Roles of Long-Distance Caregivers 

According to the National Institute on Aging, long-distance caregivers play many different roles to support their loved ones. Here are a few of the most common responsibilities that long-distance caregivers manage for their aging parents or family members:

  • Assist with finances, money management and paying bills
  • Arrange and hire in-home care such as professional caregivers or home nursing aids
  • Coordinate appropriate medical equipment
  • Locate care in assisted living facilities or nursing homes
  • Provide emotional support and respite care for primary caregivers
  • Serve as information coordinators by researching health issues and navigating insurance policies
  • Keep family and friends informed
  • Organize paperwork in the event of an emergency
  • Evaluate the senior’s home environment to ensure their safety

Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving 

As your loved one’s needs change over time, so will the role of long-distance caregiver. While caregiving can look different for each individual, there are a few common pieces of information that can be helpful despite the circumstance. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you support your loved one from afar:

Create an Emergency Plan

Primary caregivers should make sure they have access to important information and the legal authority to make financial and health-care related decisions. This is especially important for long-distance caregivers as making decisions from afar is easier when you have legal permission. Caregivers should have a good understanding of their loved one’s financial situation including every day and major expenses such as housing and long-term care insurance.

During an in-person visit, long-distance caregivers should consider compiling all important documents in the event of an emergency. This should include health care and financial power of attorney documents, birth certificates, wills, social security cards, marriage or divorce decrees, bank account information and auto, life, and medical insurance papers. These documents should be copied and kept in a fireproof box. In addition, primary caregivers should assign someone who lives locally to be available in case of an emergency.

Plan Your Visits 

When planning an in-person visit, be sure to check with the primary caregiver to see what needs to be addressed during the visit. This could include doctor’s appointments, scheduling housing maintenance or financial appointments or other caregiving responsibilities. In-person visits are also a good time to meet current and potential service providers including housekeepers, facility staff members, social workers or physicians. When visiting, make sure to assess your loved one’s home or living quarters to check for signs of abuse or cognitive decline. If you see old food in the refrigerator, unpaid bills or signs of financial misconduct, it could be a sign that your loved one needs more support or different care providers. In addition, don’t forget the importance of connecting with your loved one.

While a visit can feel stressful, it’s important to slow-down and spend time visiting with your parent or family member. In-person visits are also a great time to do things that are unrelated to caregiving responsibilities. Watching movies, playing card games, shopping or going out to lunch or dinner can help everyone relax, reconnect, and make memories together.

Maintain Communication Channels 

Many families find it helpful to schedule conference calls with important health care providers, assisted living or nursing staff, and contracted caregivers. This can be a good opportunity to get up-to-date information on your loved one’s health. If this isn’t possible, long-distance caregivers should appoint one person in the family as the point of contact for health care providers and other important people. Usually, this person is the power of attorney. Long-distance caregivers should also consider scheduling family calls so information can be shared with the appropriate individuals.

Help Your Parent Stay in Touch 

Socialization is a key element in healthy aging. However, some older adults need additional support when it comes to staying connected with friends and relatives. Long-distance caregivers may consider implementing some technologies to help their parents stay connected. With the help of a caregiver, many older adults use video conference platforms, such as FaceTime or Skype to visit with their loved ones. You may also consider programming your loved one’s phone with important numbers and speed dials to make it easier for them to make calls.

Aging at Maplewood Senior Living 

Caregiving is an all-consuming responsibility which can be made even more difficult with distance. Maplewood Senior Living offers both assisted living and nursing care, which provide families and long-distance caregivers with confidence knowing their loved ones are being cared for in a dignified environment. Our staff is committed to supporting long-distance caregivers by providing insight and information needed to make informed decisions. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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