How can you stay on top of your loved one's care from a distance?
Long Distance Caregiving
by Ray Lews
In the most recent issue of ONE Magazine, I wrote about caring for elderly loved ones in your home. This is not always an option. If moving closer to the one needing extra care or having them move closer to you is not possible, how can you stay on top of your loved one's care from a distance?
It would be great if our loved ones all stayed healthy and well. The fact is, too many won’t. During my grandparents’ day, families lived close together, neighbors looked out for one another, and when an elderly person needed something, many people were around to offer help. Things are different today. Families are spread out, and more and more people find themselves faced with the crisis of an aging relative who needs care.
The Distance Dilemma
Living far from a loved one who needs daily care is not easy. Many times the caregiver feels helpless. They love and want the best for their aging loved one, but they have their own lives and responsibilities. They may have a home, family, and job, all of which need their attention. The problem becomes, “How do I fit it all in?”
Like every other major event in your life, long distance caregiving takes planning. Without proper planning, you may be headed for a crisis. It takes time and effort to provide long distance care, but the more you prepare before a crisis arises, the better your chances of making confident and appropriate decisions.
Steps in the Right Direction
As you assume your role as a long distance caregiver, you’ll need to establish an effective plan. The following are just a few suggestions to help you get started.
Get Organized. The many details of caregiving can be overwhelming. The way to solve this problem is to be organized from the start. Maintain a record of vital information about your loved one's medical condition, legal, or financial issues. Include contact numbers, insurance information, account numbers, and other important details.
Check Into Available Community Services. Look for services that fit the needs of your loved one, such as transportation, meals on wheels, medication reminders, running errands, community centers, professional care/companionship, etc.
Set Up a Contact List. As a long distance caregiver, you need to stay in touch and informed. One of the best resources is to enlist the help of others. Meet your loved one’s neighbors and close friends. Get their phone numbers, and give them your emergency contact information. Ask them to check in on your loved one and contact you if there are any needs or problems. This list can ease long distance caregiving stress and provide support and care for your loved one.
Recognize and Acknowledge Your Own Limits. As your loved one requires increasing levels of care, you may become overwhelmed. Accept the fact that it is impossible for you to provide all the help your loved one needs. It is important for you and your loved one to realize when caregiving goes beyond your capabilities.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. As a caregiver, you don’t have to do it alone. Consider a family meeting to discuss your goals, air feelings, and divide up duties.
Check for a Mail Carrier Alert Program. Many mail carriers and utility workers are trained to spot signs of trouble. They report concerns, such as accumulated mail or trash, to an agency that will check on the older adult. This is a service of the United States Postal Service and many local nonprofit organizations. Contact the local post office or ask your mail carrier for information.
Talk About the Hard Subjects. Some things are hard to bring up with the loved one, but they help ensure the loved one’s wishes will be carried out, even if they become incapacitated. Do they have an up-to-date will, and do you know where it is? Do they have a living will? Have they established power of attorney for health care and finances, and is the documentation complete and available? What about a living trust that allows them to transfer assets and avoid probate and other legal problems.
I hope these suggestions will prove helpful to you when and if you find yourself in the position of long distance caregiver. It will not always be easy. Many long-distance caregivers feel guilty about not doing enough or spending enough time with a family member in need of care. When you encounter such feelings, remind yourself that you are doing your best for those you love.
About the Writer: D. Ray Lewis joined the Board of Retirement in 1982. He became director in 2005 after serving for several years as assistant director. Visit www.boardofretirement.com.