Long-Distance Caregiving | Senior Living Link

Donna Mae Scheib

Long-Distance Caregiving

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on October 18, 2021

Long-Distance Caregiving

Long-distance caregiving is, quite simply, providing for an aging loved one’s needs over a long distance –at least one hour away. According to a report by Metlife/National Alliance for Caregiving, 15% of the 34 million Americans who serve as their parents’ caregivers do so over long distances. This percentage has increased over decades due to the nation’s increasing mobility and technological advances in long-distance communication, and the increasing population of senior citizens in the United States only makes the arrangement more common.

This article will explain what to know if you find yourself in the position of being a loved one’s long-distance caregiver. The role presents several financial, emotional, and scheduling difficulties; however, access to the right resources can allow to you attend to your loved one’s needs from any distance.

Becoming a Long-Distance Caregiver

The responsibilities of being a long-distance caregiver include financial planning and support, making in-home care arrangements, providing loved ones and primary caregivers with emotional support, researching care options, helping loved ones move into assisted living facilities or nursing homes, organizing emergency paperwork, and keeping a network of family and friends updated. In other words, long-distance caregiving takes significant work –yet the responsibility may fall on any adult with an aging parent unable to live independently. Therefore, the first step any long-distance caregiver should take is to share their role with family and friends if possible. Many of them will have useful advice, research, and skills at their disposal, and involving them will alleviate caregiving pressures on all parties.

Talking to your loved one’s caregiver and health care providers is the next step to planning for the future. You should gain an understanding of their finances, medical history, and local resources that can help them so that you and their caregiver can work together from afar. Finding resources near your loved one will also become easier with the help of websites such as Eldercare Locator, Family Care Navigator, and the National Institute on Aging. These sites can help you find nearby caregivers and facilities if your loved one is currently in need of them. For your own uses, the American Red Cross and local nonprofits may provide you with caregiving training; you may also be able to pay for it through Medicare and Medicaid.

Visiting your loved one whenever possible is still a crucial part of long-distance caregiving. Some issues will require your in-person presence to address, and you can help your loved one’s primary caregiver by taking on some of their responsibilities. Before any visit, you should talk to your loved one and caregiver to understand what immediately needs doing and what you should save for later. Crucially, visiting also means attending to your loved one’s emotional needs and your own; bonding with them through cherished activities will relieve stress all around and ensure that the visit is not only clinical.

Attending to Health Care from Afar

Health care is one of the most complicated responsibilities to navigate as a long-distance caregiver. Learning your loved one’s medical history requires written permission under the HIPAA Privacy Rule; once you have it, you can plan in advance of any emergencies that may probably arise. Having this permission qualifies you to talk with doctors about your loved one’s health; this process becomes much easier if you create an organized folder or notebook of all the contact information and medical documents your loved one needs.

There are several documents that you may need to organize for a loved one. Durable powers of attorney for health care and finance appoint a “proxy” or “surrogate” to represent an individual’s wishes for medical treatments and financial decisions; if you have permission to view your loved one’s medical and financial records, it is probably because you have also taken on this role. A living will likewise appoint a surrogate to make medical decisions on one’s behalf if one becomes incapacitated; Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) fulfill the same purpose with broader coverage, but only for patients expected to die within one year. Finally, a trust or last will and testament dictates how an individual plan to pass down their estate; many long-distance caregivers are also executors of their loved ones’ wills. Communication is key when making sure your loved one or their surrogate produces these documents; have a polite, open discussion about their wishes and keep the documents in an accessible space.

Maintaining Your Long-Distance Caregiving Role

Potential issues that arise in long-distance caregiving include balancing it with work and parenting schedules, finding a primary caregiver if there is not already one within the family, handling the financial strain of caregiving, and finding local resources from afar. As mentioned, having discussions and getting information so you can plan ahead will save your family significant stress. As for balancing this responsibility with other pressures, however, making time to attend to your own needs will help reduce your stress to manageable levels –making it easier to prioritize tasks and plan clearly. Dividing caregiving responsibilities among your family and other caregivers can keep everyone organized and contributing whichever part of the care process they do best –be it organization, emotional support, budgeting, or research.

Distance from loved ones can also increase seniors’ vulnerability to elder abuse; however, there are ways of spotting the signs of elder abuse even from afar. Managing your loved one’s financial accounts and/or warning them about possible scams can help protect them from financial abuse, a common threat to seniors. Checking in on your loved one frequently and carefully assessing caregivers for trustworthiness will not only prepare you for emergencies but also help you determine if they are treated well on a daily basis.

Because aging parents often do not want to worry their adult children, knowing when they need help also requires contact with caregivers, neighbors, friends, and family nearby. The state of their home and behavior may suggest self-neglect or neglect from caretakers sooner than what they admit. Once you have established lines of communication between them and everyone else helping, however, your long-distance caretaking can keep your loved one safe and healthy and maintain your relationship.

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