Facing the Challenges of Long-Distance Caregiving Head On
Chambliss Law Firm Monthly Editorial – August 2019
by Rebecca Miller
Your mom is 84 years old and lives by herself. You and your siblings all live more than an hour away. Mom is relatively independent, but the last time you visited, you noticed she is having a little trouble remembering things and may need some help with daily tasks.
We’ve worked with many families over the years who know this scenario well. Caring for aging parents can be difficult when you are nearby, but long distance caregiving presents extra challenges. We encourage any long distance caregivers to try these practical tips.
Start Planning Early
Have a family meeting before there is a crisis, and make sure you involve the person who needs care in the decision-making. Discuss your loved one’s current physical and mental condition and identify any special personal needs. Once you understand the needs:
- Identify the strengths and abilities of each family member
- Assign tasks and be specific
- Identify areas where outside assistance is needed
Build a Team
You live far away, so building a circle of support including people who are nearby will be beneficial. Possible team members may be local family members, friends, neighbors, clergy, or trusted service providers. Your team may also include professionals like medical providers, an attorney or financial advisor, and caregivers. These people are your ‘boots on the ground’ who can help with various tasks and be your ‘eyes and ears’ to keep you informed about what is going on with your loved one.
Make a Communication Plan
Decide how your team will stay connected and be intentional about keeping in touch. Regularly scheduled phone calls or emails are a good idea. You can ask local team members to check in, provide updates on a routine basis, and schedule conference calls with doctors or caregivers.
Take Advantage of Community Resources
A local agency on aging can provide information about programs and services for elders.
A group like the Alzheimer’s Association or other ‘diagnosis specific’ organizations offer support services.
Community organizations and churches may provide meal delivery, transportation, or companion services.
Programs and activities may be available at a senior center or an adult day care center.
Make the Most of Visits
Coordinate the timing of your visits with your loved one or the local caregiver, and ask how you can be most helpful when you are in town. Can you provide respite for the primary caregiver? Can you take your family member to appointments? A visit is a good time to assess care needs, safety, and independence. Be sure to watch for signs that additional help is needed.
- Talk to neighbors and friends.
- Is there appropriate food?
- Has the condition of the home or your family member’s personal appearance changed since your last visit?
- Is there unopened mail or unpaid bills?
Most importantly, use your visit to reconnect and enjoy your time together.
Technology can bridge the gap when you are managing care from a distance.
- Keep in touch with your loved one via email or a video conferencing program like Skype or FaceTime.
- Manage day-to-day tasks online with services like banking and bill pay, prescription delivery, and grocery delivery.
- Use an automated medication management system to ensure that medication is being taken appropriately and provide peace of mind.
Create an Emergency Plan
There are a few things you can do to be prepared in case of an accident or other emergency.
- Provide your loved one with an emergency call button or special, easy to use phone.
- Identify a local emergency contact who can step in until you can get there.
- Build a list of contacts like physicians, pharmacies, care providers, neighbors, friends, and local resources. Keep this vital information up-to-date and in one place for you and your loved one.
- Organize important medical, legal, and financial documents so they are easily accessible at your loved one’s residence.
- Execute legal documents like durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives before a medical or mental condition make it impossible to do so.
Long distance caregiving is possible, but it requires intentional planning, extra support, and a willingness to reach out for help.
Trusted partners, like Chambliss’ elder law team, can help develop a plan to make long distance caregiving stress-free for families. Whether it’s facilitating family meetings or creating a holistic plan of care, we have the experience to provide assistance in any unique situation. If you or a loved one have any questions or would like to discuss care coordination, please contact me or any member of our team