Over one in ten caregivers are taking care of a loved one long-distance, according to a 2020 AARP study. Long distance caregiving isn’t easy, but with the right amount of planning and “on the ground” help, it can be done.
Watching over a loved one’s (or recipient’s) health is one of the main responsibilities of all caregivers. It is important for a long-distance caregiver to have a list of:
- Healthcare providers and contact information
- Insurance providers, policy information and policy numbers
When a caregiver is unable to accompany their loved one to healthcare appointments, it’s especially important that they have the legal authority, or documented release forms, to allow providers to share personal health information. Documentation should be supplied to each healthcare provider and insurer. Without proper authorization, HIPAA regulations will prevent providers and insurers from sharing any information with the caregiver.
In addition, caregivers need to know when their loved one has a healthcare appointment so that they can follow up with evolving healthcare needs, test results, medication changes, etc. It is helpful to pick a particular day each month to call your loved one and gather information about upcoming appointments.
As with healthcare, legal authority is needed in order to obtain information or make decisions about a loved one’s finances. It’s important to be on the same page as your loved one regarding finances. You both need to determine:
- The level of financial independence that your loved one will retain.
- How and under what circumstances financial authority will be transferred to you should it become necessary (if it isn’t already).
- Your loved one’s budget for monthly and annual expenses.
- Income sources as well as investment and financial account information.
- Scheduling and payment information for all regular bills.
- The extent (if any) to which you will be reimbursed for travel expenses, time off work for caregiving, etc.
Housing responsibilities vary depending on whether your loved one owns a home or is renting. Homeownership carries responsibility for maintenance and repair, lawn care, property taxes, etc. For long-distance caregivers, who may not be able to visit every time something breaks or the lawn needs to be mowed, this can be very frustrating. However, convincing a loved one to move can be difficult and painful for all involved. Every situation is individual, and there are many sides to the decision of whether or not a loved one should move to a simpler living situation.
Whether your loved one owns a home or is renting, you need to have a list of housing contacts. Depending on the situation, you may need contacts for repairs, lawn care, housekeeping, property management, etc.
Managing Declining Abilities
As loved ones age, they may lose their ability to manage certain aspects of self-care. This can include the ability to plan, shop for, and prepare meals, or the ability to adequately clean their home. They may become unable to drive at all, or unable to drive on the freeway, in bad weather, or in heavy traffic. They may develop issues with personal hygiene, particularly if incontinence becomes an issue.
Often, the only way to become aware of these changes is to make regular in-person visits. As each situation arises, solutions will need to be found. It may be necessary to hire someone to come in and clean or to drive your loved one to appointments. Meal delivery may need to be ordered from time to time, or a senior meal delivery program may be needed. In each of these situations, there are challenges unique to long-distance caregivers. Interviewing a housekeeper, judging the quality of a meal delivery service, etc., are all more easily done by someone who is local. This leads to the next point…..
Your Local Team
All long-distance caregivers need a local representative of some kind. Some information can only be obtained in person, and distance will often prevent you from being that person. Also, emergencies can arise, and someone needs to be there for your loved one as they wait for you to arrive.
The simplest solution may be other relatives in the area or a close friend of your loved one. If you or your loved one can afford it, there are also professional care management services available for hire. When looking for a care management provider, be sure to check references and compare costs. For a list of services, contact the public senior service agency that is local to your loved one.
When Long Distance Isn’t Working
Eventually, long-distance caregiving may become impractical. For this reason, it’s important to discuss a backup plan with your loved one. An assisted living facility may be an option. Another family member may be able to assume the caregiving role. Your loved one could possibly move to your location. Under some circumstances, you may even decide to move to the location where your loved one is living.
Whatever solution you choose, try to make it a shared decision if this is possible. In any case, try to make the decision before a crisis arises. Both you and your loved one will be better prepared if you already have a plan in place.