Tips for Long Distance Caregiving

A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.

Family caregiving from a distance is a challenge for millions of Americans, and the numbers are growing with our aging population. Living far from a sick loved can make providing care difficult. These difficulties extend to a caregiver’s family, personal life, work, and long-term career.

According to caregiving.org.,

  • approximately 25% of long distance caregivers are the only or primary caregiver for their loved one.
  • almost half report that spend one full day a week managing care.
  • nearly 80% of these caregivers were working full or part-time.
  • long-distance caregivers spend an average of $392 per month on travel and total out-of- pocket expenses.
  • those who live between 1 and 3 hours away from the care recipient spent an average of $386 per month on travel and direct expenses for items needed by the care recipient; those who live more than 3 hours away spent an average of $674 per month.

Despite the challenges, only two options exist when your loved one lives far from you: 1) hire a professional to oversee their care, or 2) oversee their care yourself, with the help of a support system. Option #1 will involve a cost of $100 to $200 per hour that is not covered my Medicare. Aging life care professionals (aginglifecare.org) are often referred by physicians. They provide medical and psychological assessment, set up, and oversee care.

If finances make it necessary for you to oversee care yourself, consider the following suggestions:

Determine how much help your loved one needs. Family won’t always see eye-to-eye on this issue, and it may be helpful to get an assessment from a medical professional, such as your loved one’s doctor, or an agency that works with the elderly population in your community.

Assemble a team. Begin with people who come in contact with your loved one regularly: they’re a neighbor, see your loved one at church, go out to meals or run errands with them regularly, etc. Ask them to be attentive to any changes in behavior, appearance, activity level, mood, and tell them you’ll be calling on a regular basis to check on Mom, Dad, or Auntie. Be sure to explain your goal to take the best possible care of your loved one from a distance and your frustration with not being able to be there personally to assist.

Ask them if they might also be willing to assist occasionally with household tasks, errands, or driving. Then add to that list with names of others they recommend who may be able to help–children and grandchildren of your loved one’s friends, people from their church, community groups, etc.

Make a list of people who offer services that might be needed. Gather phone numbers for neighborhood kids who can mow lawns, shovel snow, clean gutters, for handymen, plumbers, electricians, etc.

Compile resources.  Most communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that can help seniors with basic needs such as home delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and more. Contact the Area Agency on Aging near your loved one for more information. Find out what grocery stores in the area deliver. Call churches and inquire about senior ministries.

Hire help. Professional caregivers can be an enormous resource, providing as much social and emotional benefit to our loved one as they do housekeeping, food preparation, and personal care. Homecare aides charge between $12-$25. Be sure to do background checks and/or work through reputable agencies.

Use technology. Arrange for direct deposit of checks, automatic payment of utilities and routine bills, and online banking (consider having yourself placed on the account. Teach your loved one how to Skype or FaceTime, or have someone assist them.

Consider additional technologies such as motion sensors (like Silver Mother – sen. se/silvermother) and video cameras (nest.com/camera) that can help you make sure your loved one is moving around the house normally; computerized pillboxes (medminder. com) that will notify you if they forget to take their medication; simplified computer tablets (grandpad.net) that provide important face-to-face video calls; and a variety of websites that can help you coordinate care (lotsahelpinghands. com) and medical information (reunioncare.com) with other family members.

For more tips, call the National Institute on Aging at 800-222-2225 and order their free booklet “Long-Distance Caregiving: Twenty Questions and Answers.”

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