Senior Care can be stressful to navigate on its own, and long-distance caregivers take on many important roles in the lives of those who need their help. For long-distance caregivers, the additional factor of distance, time and logistics can have a larger impact on how caregivers can provide help for their elderly loved ones.
Long-distance caregivers often balance the demand of multiple households, work, and daily life as a whole. Fortunately, there are strategies and tips that long-distance caregivers can use to help.
Unicity Eldercare understands the role of caregiver and how difficult it can be to navigate on your own. We have compiled our tips to help take care of your loved one, as well as provide useful information on assisting and supporting those you care for at a distance.
Long-Distance Caregiving In the U.S.
It is estimated that about 34 million Americans are caregivers for an older parent — and of that number, 15% live one or more hours away from the care recipient. Nearly one third of adults providing care at a distance are helping someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
There are a number of contributing factors which contribute to the surge in long-distance caregiving, but overall it is due to an increase in our society’s mobility. Seniors 65 and older are increasingly mobile, and the number of seniors who have switched states over the last decade has increased 65%.
Thus when those seniors experience a change in being able to care for themselves, it’s often up to the adult children living some distance away to coordinate senior care.
Taking Care Of Our Aging Loved Ones From A Distance
Coordinating senior care takes a lot of time and research, but when you add in the factor of distance, there are additional issues that may crop up. These may include:
- Choosing A Primary Caregiver: Determining who is the main caregiver in the first place can be a trial if siblings or other immediate family cannot agree on individual roles, especially if time is of the essence. If you are the primary caregiver, then you’ll be the one faced with much of the research and decision-making, regardless of how far away you live.
- Managing Your Own Family And Career: A large proportion of long-distance caregivers are supporting families of their own while also caring for aging parents at a distance. As such, employed caregivers often are required to make significant adjustments to their work in order to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities — such as factoring in days they will have to take off from work, as well as rearranging work and activity schedules.
- Understand The Costs Associated With Providing Long-Distance Care: According to studies, long-distance caregivers spend an average of $400 per month on travel and out-of-pocket expenses. Thus, it is important to set aside time and save money for unexpected visits to help your loved one.
- Finding Resources From A Distance In Order To Assess Care Needs: It can be difficult to determine what needs your loved ones might have, especially if they are unable or unwilling to communicate it to you. Researching resources and senior care local to your loved one can be one of the biggest challenges.
Long-Distance Caregiving Tips
If you are assuming the role of long-distance caregiver, it is important to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness, medicines, and resources that might be available. All of this information can help you anticipate the course of an illness and assist in healthcare management.
Make sure at least one family member has written permission to receive medical and financial information and if possible, one family member should handle conversations with all healthcare providers. Additionally, placing vital information in one place— information about medical care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues, is helpful. Some people suggest using a notebook or inputting information into a shared, secure online document.
Other additional tips are as follows:
- Assess Your Loved One’s Care Needs: Many times, care needs can include a wide spectrum from simple daily tasks like laundry and other household chores to more complex factors like estate planning and liquidation or relocation.
- Create A Communication Plan: Open communication can make the subtle difference in knowing if your loved one’s needs are increasing or if alternative care is needed. Listen actively to what is shared with you by neighbors, medical care professionals, friends or the care receiver themselves.
- Keep a Library Of Important Documents Pertaining To Your Loved One’s Care: The library of essentials should include basic important documents like insurance cards and regularly taken medications as well as complex documentation like wills and financial information.
- Schedule family Meetings To Discuss Major Decisions And Plan For The Future: Keeping open communication with family and others who support the care receiver helps ease the burden of last minute decision making.The more prepared you are with health, financial, and emergency plans, the better you can enjoy peace of mind for your loved one’s long-distance care
- Factor In Your Loved One’s Household Maintenance And Upkeep If They Are “Aging-In-Place”: Become aware of the need for repairs or accessibility updates that come along with aging-in-place. If household demands go beyond what your support system or a hired professional can complete in the home, prepare to help your loved one make a decision on downsizing or relocation.
- Do Research About Your Loved One’s Medical Conditions, Treatment Plans And Care Needs: Research can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist in healthcare management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier.
Long-Distance Caregiver Checklist
Use visits as a moment to spend quality time with your loved one, as well as gather information for care decisions. Make the most of your time and assess mobility, memory, or any other factor that may change care needs. During your visit you should also consider setting up a good portion of time so you can assess what is going on and have time for necessary tasks and appointments. These may include:
- Visit With Your Loved One’s Doctor: Have him or her sign a release of information so the doctor is able to share medical information with you when you return home. Get a current list of their diagnoses, medications, allergies and health history (we can share some great tips for storing the information so you have easy access and can keep it updated, and our geriatric care managers can serve as your liaison at appointments to assist your parent). Give the doctor’s office your emergency contact information, and ask them to contact you with any significant changes. If your parent doesn’t have advance directives in place, including a durable power of attorney and healthcare proxy, make that a priority.
- Check-In With Your Loved One’s Pharmacist: Make sure your parent is getting all his or her prescriptions filled and on a timely basis. If your parent is seeing more than one doctor, check to make sure these doctors are communicating. Multiple pharmacies and physicians are a recipe for disaster without careful organization. Check your parents’ medications for expired or discontinued medications, and discard any non current meds. Check out our patient advocacy services to learn more about help in this area.
- Assess Your Loved One’s Ability To Transport Themselves: if your parent’s still driving. Make sure to let your parent drive while visiting so you can get a preview of how he/she is doing. If your parent refuses or makes excuses, this might also be an indication of a problem. If you spot concerns, the next step will be how to address it and setting up alternatives (you don’t want your parent to become isolated post-driving). Understand that giving up this part of independence is extremely difficult for many seniors, but safety needs to come first.
- Honor Your Loved One’s Wishes: for health care and finances if they are unable to make those decisions in the future. Make sure your parents’ have chosen a power of attorney for health care and finances, and the documentation is complete and available
- Obtain Your Loved One’s Insurance Information, Medical Team Information, Key Contacts And Medical History. The easiest thing is to store this electronically; such as saving a picture on your phone so you can access it from anywhere. You can use secure storage general storage software programs, or a specific healthcare or caregiver management program.
Recognizing When To Seek Out Expert Help
When you’re a long-distance adult child trying to make sure your parents get what they need, it may seem impossible to do it all. Caring for your elderly loved one from a distance will have limitations. Be realistic about the quality of care you want your loved one to receive and seek experts to fill in the gaps of your limitations. In many cases large tasks like senior relocation or downsizing is a better handled by knowledgeable experts who may be able to plan and organize a move from start to finish.
If you find problems are increasing or activities of daily living are proving difficult, your parent will need some type of care. Now is the ideal time to be proactive to avoid future crises, which is especially important as a long-distance caregiver. Involve your parent and other family members in the decision-making process, and get things in place that will help your parent have the best quality of life possible in order to help prevent further complications. If you are noticing multiple problems, schedule a geriatric care management assessment today.
Unicity Eldercare is an accredited homecare agency. We have become a reference in the healthcare community and a trusted partner to the most renowned hospitals, facilities, lawyers and financial institutions. Unicity is also a preferred provider of the Alzheimer’s Association of New Jersey through their Helpline.
Getting a geriatric care management consultation can help you better understand the resources available to help. Here are some primary areas where aging parents often need help and some of the solutions available:
- Medication Management– Medication errors are a common problem for seniors who take multiple medications and can cause an array of problems. Having someone setting up a pill box weekly or monthly, electronic medication reminder systems, and medication management by a home care company are all good options. There are many ways to simplify the regime.
- Meal Preparation– Meals on Wheels or other meal delivery service can help when your loved one is unable to cook for themselves. It’s a good idea to consider hiring a home caregiver to assist with grocery shopping and prepare meals, as well as provide companionship during meals and monitor nutrition.
- Personal Care: Do a comparative grooming check to see if your loved one is taking care of their personal hygiene and other needs. Poor hygiene can be a sign of physical difficulties or depression or even more serious issues such as dementia.
- Transportation– If your parent doesn’t drive and has difficulty getting to appointments, or running errands, there are a few options and the best choice may be a combination. Some communities have senior transportation available or some areas have public transportation which offer senior transportation or senior discounts. Additionally, many home care agencies will provide transportation. They also can assist with shopping, putting away groceries, preparing meals, hygiene assistance, light housekeeping and more.
- Changes In Mobility And Overall Health– If you have seen a major change, you may need to explore home health care. Hiring a nurse, and/or therapist to visit the home if there has been a significant change in health status is very important. A general assessment can help identify what is going on and any possible solutions to offset changes or support your parent safely.
- Memory Problems– If you notice a marked deficiency in your parents’ memory, it is vital to get a thorough evaluation from a memory clinic or specialist. Unless memory issues are being caused by a reversible issue, dementias like Alzheimer’s disease are progressive; so future planning is essential.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care is our specialization at Unicity Eldercare. We know that it is essential that care be supervised and adjusted at each level of Alzheimer’s disease: the early stage, the middle stage and the late stage. Our Geriatric Care Managers make sure to guide you through the appropriate care alternatives during the progression of the disease.
You can benefit from the expertise of our experienced Geriatric Care Managers if you are concerned about a loved one and don’t know what to do and where to turn. If you are considering a change regarding the living environment of a loved one, we can help.
If you are caring for elderly parents long-distance, you want assurance that everything is going to be okay. Unicity Eldercare can provide the peace of mind you need.
When the time comes to consider home care for your loved one, you may seek help from Unicity’s qualified home care professionals to help ease the burden. Unicity Eldercare’s mission is to help our clients stay in their familiar surroundings, remain independent and live an active, healthy, and happy life.
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