Long Distance Caregiving is Challenging but Possible When You Follow These Tips.
If you are anything like me you left home as soon as you graduated from college. I live about an hour away from my parents. That’s just far enough away to keep them from dictating my everyday life but close enough to get home in a hurry if needed.
Now that they are both getting older and need more help I have to figure out strategies to be an effective long distance caregiver as their care needs increase. Long-distance caregivers face specific challenges. Not living in the same town makes it difficult to accurately evaluate what any loved one may need.
In my case, I have to depend on other family members to check in on my parents and report accurately on their condition. These reports may be biased either because they don’t notice or believe the level of a family member’s decline is significant.
More often daily exposure to a person can make the increased needs less noticeable. This change is often obvious to a relative who hasn’t visited them in a while.
Living Far Away
Not only is it difficult to provide assistance when a caregiver is not present, the travel time can be a major obstacle. Depending on how far away you live directly affects your ability to respond quickly to a medical crisis. I am lucky enough to be an hour away from my parents. When my dad had a major fall and was taken to the hospital emergency room, I was able to get there in a little over 45 minutes. Lucky for me the police weren’t patrolling I-75 that day.
Costly Travel Time and Expense
This response time was not evident with a family I worked with recently. Their dad lived in Michigan with a full social calendar and many friends. His sons live in Texas and Florida. When Dad began to need more help both sons had to sacrifice work time, income, and bear the expense of several airplane tickets before Dad safely transitioned into an assisted living community. Long distance caregivers need to prepare for the cost and time away from their homes that eventually will happen.
A plan that includes these seven steps will help reduce the stress involved in long-distance caregiving.
- Get Organized. The most important and most difficult step to take involves obtaining all pertinent information you can on your loved one. A notebook binder works well or you can search for computer apps to keep the information in one central place. You must tackle this step first or the rest of your journey will be a mess. Now I’m not talking about reorganizing their closets. That will come later. First it is necessary to organize your care recipient and all of their stuff. This means understanding their complete financial picture including knowing who owns all titled property? Which banks do they use? Whose names are on the accounts? Is there a will or trust? Are there other options that can be taken advantage of?(like VA Aid & Attendance or prescription savings program). This is also true of their medical situation. Knowing, their PCP, pharmacy, list of all medications, upcoming appointments, medical care choices (like DNR), and if there is an advance directive on file.
- Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about your loved ones condition or disease, their medications, possible side effects and how to use any durable medical equipment. The more you understand the progression of any disease, the better you will be in predicting care needs as they change. Don’t forget to explore any support programs available in your area which may help now and later.
- Develop your local power team: Help can come from a number or sources. If a church affiliation is available, check with the pastor to see who can coordinate some volunteer services. Check with the local Area on Aging for their resource booklets. Neighbors, friends, health care providers and club members can be your eyes and ears. Make sure they all are able to contact you by phone or email.
- Hire a Professional care manager: Care Managers are priceless so consider hiring one. They can help with activities of daily living, coordinate doctor appointments and transportation, and provide supervision of any home care aids you hire.
- Reach out and Touch: Stay in touch with your loved one, the care manager if you have hired one, a trusted neighbor, their pastor, their doctor, even the person who delivers “meals on wheels” food. Use all available technology like Facebook; text messages; or Skype. Set up regular routine telephone appointments so you stay on top of your loved ones health changes.
- Visit with a Purpose: Plan items you want to accomplish when you visit. Whenever possible make it a surprise. My mom always tries to do too much when she knows I am coming. Having her do extra cooking and cleaning only adds extra stress. Write out a reasonable “to do” list of things you can accomplish while you are there. Stocking the freezer with cooked meals or doing a little grocery shopping can easily be done on your way to their residence. But don’t forget to actually spend time with your loved one.
- Identify Local Senior Communities: My final suggestion is to shop around and visit local Adult Day Care Centers and senior living communities nearby. Most seniors I have met are unaware of the many types of senior housing options available. Show your loved one that there are more choices than just the local nursing home. Find out which communities offer short-term stay programs, known as respite care. If appropriate, arrange for a short week end stay so that your loved one can experience life in a senior community. Working with a CarePatrol representative can provide insight for respite care options.
Hopefully, these ideas will help you set up an effective plan for taking care of a loved one from a distance.