Providing care for an aging family member is almost always a difficult task. The challenge is often intensified when you must be a long-distance caregiver.
It’s estimated that 11 percent of family caregivers live an hour or more away from the loved ones in their care. While distance prevents you from being physically present on a day-to-day basis, your role as a long-distance caregiver is vitally important to your family member. So we’ve compiled a list of ways you can support your loved one from afar—and tips for making the job a little easier.
Help with healthcare
At an age when many older adults begin experiencing cognitive setbacks, they can also face an onslaught of information. Health-related information is a good example: If your aging loved one has any medical issues, there’s undoubtedly a confusing trail of healthcare and insurance correspondence arriving daily. Making sense of it all can be frustrating for anyone, but especially for someone already requiring care.
To grant you access to his or her medical-related information, your loved one will most likely need to authorize its release to you. Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes provisions for unauthorized disclosure to family members in certain cases, most medical practices will ask patients to sign a simple release form. With that authorization, you can discuss your loved one’s medical treatment with physicians and nurses by phone. In many cases, you’ll also be able to access information such as test results, medication plans, and physician notes online.
Too often, older adults misunderstand or forget what their medical and financial advisors tell them. Therefore, access to your loved one’s medical, insurance, and financial data provides you the first-hand knowledge needed to make informed caregiving decisions.
Handle the bookkeeping
Taking over a loved one’s financial record keeping is another long-distance caregiver duty. Most banks offer online platforms from which you can manage checking, savings, and credit card activity. You’ll first need to know which banks your loved one uses, as well as the account numbers. And, of course, you’ll need permission to act on the person’s behalf.
A good way to obtain authorization is for the person to appoint you as a financial Durable Power of Attorney (POA). As POA, you act as your loved one’s agent in handling financial responsibilities. You can write checks, pay bills, make deposits, transfer money, and reconcile the checkbook—while all the accounts remain in your loved one’s name.
It’s wise to have a financial POA in place as a proactive measure in case your care recipient develops dementia and is deemed incompetent to appoint an agent.
Coordinate with an assisted living provider
If your loved one resides in an assisted living facility, the onsite staff offers daily attention that you cannot provide as a long-distance caregiver. Assisted living facilities help with various levels of care, depending on your family member’s assessed needs. They make helpful services available, from meal preparation and medication administration to housekeeping and social activities. And, importantly to you, staff members act as your eyes and ears in monitoring your loved one’s wellbeing.
At Sunset Communities, it’s common for us to speak by phone with out-of-town family members to update them about their loved ones. Whether we’re having those discussions face to face or long distance, the goal is working together to do what’s best for our residents.
Establishing long-distance communication lines with the assisted living staff can help put your mind at ease—by providing you knowledge about your loved one’s health and comfort, and by keeping you involved in making important decisions.
Provide emotional support
Speaking of communicating, it’s crucial for long-distance caregivers to devote significant time to providing a care recipient with emotional support. Older adults face issues—including failing health, loneliness, and the death of someone close—that could leave them feeling depressed. What’s more, it’s good for both caregiver and care receiver to have someone to discuss life’s ongoing challenges and successes.
Nowadays, technology is greatly enhancing long-distance communication. While many caregivers find it simplest to communicate through traditional phone calls, others prefer options such as email, texting, social media, video conferencing, and chat. Convincing an older person to embrace technology is often the first step, but with so many options available you’re bound to find one that your loved one will enjoy.
Create an emergency plan
Long-distance caregivers should have plans in place to deal with urgent situations that might arise. There are matters that you should be present to address, such as critical medical and financial emergencies, and your loved one will be grateful to have you there. Therefore, you’ll want to be prepared to travel at a moment’s notice.
If you have children or pets, it’s helpful to have their temporary care prearranged. It’s also a good idea to keep your employer informed when there’s a chance you might need to request unexpected leave.
Make certain you have all necessary documents, such as a Power of Attorney, in a convenient place—and be sure to pack them when you travel to be alongside your loved one.
Although distance might keep you from being physically present to care for an aging loved one, with a little planning and preparation you can make the best from long-distance caregiving.