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.”

Tips for Long Distance Caregiving

My mom and dad catching asnooze.

My mom and dad catching a snooze.

 

For several years my husband and I cared for his father in our home while we also shared the care of my mother with Alzheimer’s in Michigan. These years were a whirlwind and prompted me to write my first caregiving book, Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers

Long distance caregiving can be challenging and stressful.

I know this from personal experience. I drove from Iowa to Michigan and back every-other weekend to help my parents, while my husband remained at home caring for his father. The trip involved a fifteen hour round-trip drive, not counting frenzied time with my parents (grocery shopping, managing falls, trying to locate paperwork, house cleaning, etc.).

Here are a few of my top tips for those who are facing the rigors of long distance caregiving:

1. Begin researching nursing home and residential facilities early.

It was a surprise to me to learn that our top choice for nursing care for my mother had a two-year waiting list. The good news was that we didn’t immediately need to make the transition. So we put Mom’s name (and my father’s) on a waiting list. When their name(s) came to the top of the list, we had the option of waiting to move them in but still remaining number one on the list.

Researching early also gives you a better picture of the kinds of facilities that are available so your loved one can make the most informed choice.

2. Begin gathering paperwork as soon as possible.

This includes medical records, bank and financial documents, insurance papers, Social Security information, loans and mortgage information, wills and medical directives, instructions regarding safe deposit boxes and keys, etc. You don’t want to try to find this information at the point of crisis. For a comprehensive listing, check the appendices of Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey

3. Research what resources are availabile through state and county taxes and millages in the area where your loved one(s) plans to live.

Dan and I discovered that some of the most comprehensive eldercare resources in the country were available in the county where we lived in Iowa about a dozen years ago. However, wimilar services were not available when we moved to Michigan.

Gulp.

This meant a shift in our finances and personal choices, since Dan’s father lived in our home. When we moved back to Michigan, we discovered that we would have to pay for certain services out-of-pocket at the same time we were taking a significant pay cut.

4. Gather the family early (as in years and decades) to discuss caregiving priorities.

For instance, you might want to make it part of a yearly gathering to begin gathering and updating information after your parent or parents hit 55 or experience a significant shift in health. Reassure your parents that your goal is to carry out their wishes to the best of your ability. The best way to do this is to prepare. It can be wise to engage the serices of an eldercare lawyer, who can advise you as the best way to extend your parents’ assets.