Eleven percent of family caregivers live an hour or more away from their aging or ailing loved one, according to the "Caregiving in the U.S. 2020" study by AARP and the National Alliance of Caregiving. Many are tending to family members from a distance of hundreds of miles.
Long-distance caregivers have the same concerns and pressures as local caregivers — and then some. For example, they spend nearly twice as much on caregiving as do people caring for a loved one close by because they're more likely to need to hire help, take uncompensated time off work and pay for travel.
Often, the most significant challenge they face is simply staying informed and assured that the person needing care is in capable hands. That's why a long-distance caregiver can't do without good communication and a solid team on the ground.
Here are five steps to staying informed and effective as a long-distance caregiver and tips for putting the measures in place.
1. Establish access
Having good information channels and legal authority to make financial and health-care decisions is important for all primary caregivers, but it's even more so for those handling care from a distance. Try to arrange as much as possible during an in-person visit, when you can work with your loved one to locate, organize and fill out necessary paperwork.
- Start the money conversation. Discussing finances is often difficult, but you need to get the lay of the land. Devise a plan with your loved one for how to pay for health care and everyday expenses. Consider how much is on hand in savings and investments, the size of major payments such as housing, and whether your loved one has long-term care insurance.
- Request access to information. Ask whether your loved one can 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. Don't forget things like banks and utilities. You may end up becoming the bill payer.
- Address legal issues. If your loved one hasn't yet designated a durable power of attorney for health care and financial decisions, ask whether you or some other trusted person can take on that role. If your loved one has no power of attorney and becomes physically or cognitively unable to choose one, the courts will have to step in.
- Know emergency basics. Can someone else get into the home in an urgent situation? Is an extra set of house or car keys stashed somewhere? Does the property have a burglar alarm, and what's the code? Keep a friendly neighbor's phone number handy, and ask the neighbor to do the same with yours.