In today’s society, family members are often scattered throughout the country and even abroad. This phenomenon can cause much stress and worry when an elder family member who is not nearby now needs additional assistance in managing his or her affairs.
The first step to long-distance caregiving is to understand your loved one’s situation and needs. Schedule a visit with your relative or friend spanning several days to observe how they make decisions, solve problems and complete daily tasks, as well as the roles of any other caregivers. Get a long-term picture, so you don’t have to rely solely on reports from others.
Speaking with other family members, neighbors and friends about their observations of and communications with your loved one also can help provide a more complete picture of reality. Checking out your family member’s medical diagnoses and medications will help promote an understanding of how chronic conditions and their treatments may affect the current and future level of your loved one’s functioning.
Who is currently living nearby and providing assistance — perhaps a sibling or a cousin? Talk with this caregiver and find out whether additional help is needed or wanted and what specific tasks are open for negotiation. Good intentions create bad feelings, and misunderstandings easily can occur if you make assumptions that turn out to be unwarranted.
Here are some suggestions for the types of assistance a long-distance caregiver can contribute:
- Consider hiring a certified Geriatric Care Manager to provide care coordination services. Geriatric Care Managers are nurses or social workers with special knowledge and skills related to dealing with seniors. The can act as your eyes and ears if you need a local professional to oversee a parent’s care.
- Consult with an experienced and qualified Elder Law Attorney to make sure that a plan is in place for obtaining or keeping government assistance to help pay for long term care and make sure your parents’ incapacity plan and estate plan are in place.
- Offer emotional support for the regular caregiver. A routine phone call to the individual can help promote social engagement and a sense of connection despite physical distance. Regular contact with this caregiver reinforces your interest and allows an opportunity for the caregiver to vent frustrations, share successes and ask for assistance to problem-solve. Remember to express appreciation routinely and to offer reassurance when needed. Avoid second-guessing the primary caregiver.
- Coordinate visits so you can attend medical appointments or so the primary caregiver can take time off for vacation or personal needs.
- Financial management is an activity that can be handled regardless of physical proximity. A long-distance caregiver can arrange and monitor online bill payments, manage banking and insurance needs, complete tax returns and more. Or you can hire a local professional to handle your parent’s bill paying and management of finances.
- Research medical issues and identify local resources for the individual and caregiver, checking equipment needs, comparing costs for professional care, and investigating types and eligibility requirements of various public benefit programs. A geriatric care manager is a good source for this information.
- Coordinate communication. Do numerous family and friends desire regular updates? Being the main point of contact can help prevent the primary caregiver from having to repeat the same information multiple times when a change in condition occurs.
- Create a contact list with phone numbers of neighbors, medical professionals, clergy and others in regular contact with family members who can be reached in an emergency. Include one person close by your loved one. These folks may be able to help out with shopping, transportation or visits.
Take advantage of any time together to discuss current and future caregiving needs in your family and reduce the chances of a caregiving crisis. Caregiving from afar isn’t an easy task. When you visit, allow time to go through mail and old papers. Look for such safety hazards as missing handrails or loose rugs.
Recognize the strain that long-distance caregiving causes and take steps to reduce it. Give yourself credit for your efforts to determine needs, coordinate services and offer support by phone and occasional visits.