Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

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With an aging U.S. population, many of us are stepping into caregiver roles, whether it’s for grandparents, parents or other loved ones. We often worry about the well-being of our aging family members and loved ones, and currently, nursing homes care for over 1.5 million Americans.

Whether your loved one still lives independently or is in a nursing home, being far away from them can add to the already challenging stress that comes with being a caregiver. 

According to the MetLife/National Alliance for Caregiving report, around 34 million Americans are caregivers for an older parent, and of those, 15% live one or more hours away.

It is possible to be a long-distance caregiver, although it can be difficult. The following are some tips to make it more manageable. 

Identify Specific Challenges

Before you can take any other steps, it’s a good idea to outline the specific challenges you face as a long-distance caregiver, because that gives you a clear way to work toward tackling those challenges. 

Some of the challenges you might identify include:

  • You’ll have to decide on a primary caregiver because there need to be one main point person, even if responsibilities are being shared
  • As a caregiver, you likely have your own family and work demands outside of that role and you’ll have to figure out the best ways to handle those
  • Financial strain can stem from being a long-distance caregiver
  • You’ll need to be able to find local resources where your loved one lives and then maintain regular communication with those resources when necessary

Streamline Everything

As was touched on, when you’re providing long-distance care for a family member, you need to designate one point person who deals with all communication, whether that’s you or someone else. 

This should be the person who does all the conversations with health care providers and other people who are involved in your loved one’s care. If one person is handling all the communication, it can help prevent miscommunication or confusion and mixed messages. 

Then, you should have a secure location where all the relevant information about care is kept so everyone can access it quickly and easily. 

Being organized is the best thing your family can do as far as simplifying long-distance caregiving. 

Establish Your Access

If you’re going to be the primary point person in your loved one’s care, you will need to establish access to everything related to their finances and health care. Bringing this up may be a bit of an awkward conversation, but it’s necessary. 

You’ll need to start by discussing finances. Your loved one might not be thrilled about this conversation, but it needs to be had. You should come up with a plan for how everyday expenses will be covered and also how long-term expenses will be covered as well. 

You should delve into how much your loved one has in savings and investment accounts, any major payments that need to be made, and whether or not your family member has long-term care insurance. 

You’ll need to be able to have access to everything from accounts with utility companies to banks and it may turn out that you’re the one eventually handling the paying of all bills. 

Are there legal issues that need to be addressed? For example, has your loved one signed a durable power of attorney? This is what will give you the ability to take control of financial and health-related decisions if your loved one becomes unable to. If you wait too long, a court may end up deciding who will be the person with power of attorney. 

Create An Emergency Plan

You’ll need to work with at least one person who is going to have physical proximity to your loved one on an emergency plan. Whether your loved one is in a care facility or is living at home, this is important. 

If your loved one lives on their own, you’ll have to think about whether someone has access to their home if there is an emergency situation. 

You should create a team when you’re doing long-distance caregiving as well. Your team might include friends or other family members who live near your loved one or even members of the community. 

Assign roles, so everyone knows what’s expected of them.  

Finally, make use of technology. This might include having your loved one wear an activity tracker, using remote door locks, or even giving your family member an electronic pill dispenser. You can also use a video monitoring system to give yourself peace of mind as a long-distance caregiver. 

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