Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Long-distance caretaker

Challenges of a Long-Distance Caregiver

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More than 1 in 10 family caregivers live at least an hour away from their aging or ailing family member, and many are tending to a loved one from a distance of hundreds of miles.

Being a long-distance caretaker for an aging loved one poses challenges. A recent article noted that a long-distance caregiver has the same concerns and pressures as local caregivers, perhaps even more. They spend about twice as much on caregiving as people caring for a loved one nearby because they’re more likely to need to hire help, take uncompensated time off work, and pay for travel. A huge challenge for this group is just staying informed and assured that the person needing care is in good hands. As a result, long-distance caregivers must have good communication and a solid team on the ground.

AARP’s recent article entitled “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar” provides five steps about staying informed and effective as a long-distance caregiver and thoughts for implementing the measures.

  1. Be sure you have access to information. Having a means of receiving good information and possessing legal authority to make financial and health-care decisions is critical for all primary caregivers, but it’s even greater for ones caring from a distance. Arrange as much as you can during an in-person visit.
  • Start the discussion on finances and map out with your loved one how to pay for health care and everyday expenses.
  • Ask whether your parent or other senior is able to sign the forms or make the calls necessary to give doctors, hospitals, and insurers permission to share information with you or another trusted family member. This should include banks and utilities.
  • Be sure the senior has designated a durable power of attorney for health care and financial decisions.
  • Know what to do in an emergency, as far as access to the home by a neighbor, if needed.
  1. Create your on-the-ground support team. Don’t try to do it all, especially if your loved one has more serious or complicated health issues. In addition to healthcare professionals, ask friends, family, and community groups to join a network of care-giving helpmates. Remember to add your loved one as part of the team.
  • Assign roles and tasks that team members are willing and able to do.
  • Create a list with contact info for everyone, and keep it up to date.
  1. Consider hiring a reputable care-giving professional. They’re often called a geriatric care manager, aging life care manager, or eldercare navigator or coordinator, and they can be of great assistance to a long-distance caretaker. These professionals may frequently be licensed nurses or social workers who can also be valuable mediators or sounding boards when family members disagree on care decisions.
  • Verify the person’s professional certifications, see how long the person has been in the field, and request references.
  • Care managers can charge $50 to $200 an hour. Medicare doesn’t cover this service, nor do most health insurance plans. However, if you can handle it financially, an experienced manager may be able to save your family time, money, and stress with even a short call.
  1. Find ways to communicate regularly with your local support group and loved one. You should leverage technology. With permission, place video monitors, wearable activity trackers, remote door locks to prevent wandering (if the care recipient has dementia), and even electronic pill dispensers that can tell you if someone has taken the prescribed medications.
  2. Leverage your visits. Nothing is better than an in-person visit. When you can manage one, come with a list of things you need to know or discuss.
  • Interview possible home aides or house cleaners, or meet with social workers or other professionals involved in your loved one’s care to discuss any concerns.
  • Look for signs of abuse, which means monitoring your senior’s checking account, to see if there are any irregularities, and look for red flags of physical or emotional mistreatment, like bruises, unexplained injuries, or a sudden change in personality. Note if your family member talks about a person you’ve never met who visits often and has been “very helpful.”

As a long-distance caretaker, you may have several practical tasks to tick off your list, but it’s important to spend quality time with your loved one. And seek the advice of a qualified elder law attorney if you have any questions.

Reference: AARP (Oct. 30, 2019) “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar”