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  • Help for Long-Distance Caregivers

    An estimated 11 percent of family caregivers live at least an hour away from their loved one. Many have the same concerns and pressures local caregivers have — and then some. They tend to spend more of their own money on caregiving, for instance, because they’re more likely to need to hire help, take time off work (which may not be paid) and pay for travel. The most significant challenge they face, however, can simply be staying informed and assured that the person needing care is in good hands. A few things a long-distance caregiver can’t do without: good communication and a solid team on the ground.  

  • Establish access

    Having proper access to information and the legal authority to make decisions is important for all primary caregivers, but it’s even more so for those handling care from a distance. Example: You’ll need signed documents permitting doctors to share information with you. Much of the arranging is best handled during an in-person visit, when you can work with your loved one to locate, organize and fill out necessary paperwork — and there will be plenty.

    Quick Tips:

    • Start the discussion. It’s often difficult to discuss finances, but you need to get the lay of the land. You and your loved one will need to strategize over how to pay for health care costs and other everyday expenses. Consider how much is on hand in savings and investments, the size of major payments like housing and whether they have 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 health insurance companies 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 already designated a durable power of attorney for health care and financial decisions, ask whether she’d like you or someone else she unequivocally trusts to take on that crucial role. If there’s no power of attorney and they become physically or cognitively unable to choose one, the courts will have to step in.
    • Know emergency basics. You need to know how you or someone else can get into the home in an urgent situation. Is an extra set of keys (including car keys) stashed somewhere? Is there a burglar alarm code? Keep a friendly neighbor’s phone number handy, and ask the neighbor to do the same with yours.

    Resources

    • It's crucial to stay organized when you're juggling multiple medications
    • A search engine to help answer the most common caregiving questions
    • 10 time management tips to get more done with less stress
    • For adult children, sharing the workload and carrying out the plan come with challenges
  • Create a team

    While there are plenty of important tasks that can be handled remotely, such as paying bills, ordering prescriptions and coordinating team members, you’ll still need others to be your eyes and ears (and hands!) when you’re caring from afar. It’s natural for long-distance caregivers to feel guilty about delegating certain jobs, but — especially when trying to manage more serious or complicated health problems — you simply cannot do it all.

    Quick Tips:

    • Start to build your team. Beyond medical professionals, it’s important to reach out to friends, family and community resources to form a larger network of caregiving helpmates. Remember to consider your loved one part of the team.
    • Determine roles. Ask what tasks team members are willing and able to do — large or small. A neighbor might be happy to cut the lawn, while another family member might volunteer to drive to doctor’s appointments.
    • Keep a roster. Compile and keep up to date a list of contact info for everyone — including hired helpers such as the housecleaner and the dog walker — and be sure they know how to reach you as well. 

    Resources

    • These resource guides are a starting point to help you find the services and support you need
    • Caregiving can be stressful. Read Amy Goyer's book to learn the day-to-day coping techniques
    • Some Hispanics may prefer to communicate in Spanish with their doctors. Follow these tips to find a Spanish-speaking physician.
  • Find a local coordinator

    When caring from afar, it can be especially useful to have a local care manager who can supply local knowledge and help with caregiving logistics. One option is to hire a reputable professional — often called a geriatric care manager or eldercare navigator/coordinator. They can be especially valuable as objective mediators when family members disagree on care decisions and when you’re facing tough choices, such as whether it’s no longer safe for your loved one to live at home.  

    Quick Tips:

    • Find someone reliable. Many people who identify themselves as care managers are unqualified for such a crucial role, so verify credentials. Consider years of experience and professional certifications. Resources include www.guardianship.org, www.csa.us and www.cmsa.org.
    • Discuss what they can do and their areas of expertise. You can hire them for a few hours’ consultation to develop a care plan or they can manage nearly the whole kaboodle: from hiring and overseeing caregivers to taking on power of attorney for a loved one who is reluctant to designate a family member and may prefer a professional.
    • Consider cost. Health insurance does not cover their services, and they typically charge anywhere from $50 to $200 an hour. But an experienced care manager may be able to save your family time, money and stress with even a brief consultation. 

    Resources

    • AARP developed these resources guides with you – the caregiver – in mind as a starting point to help you find the services and support you need throughout your caregiving journey
    • Considering whether you'll need long-term care insurance?
    • Amy Goyer describes how she gets help from a range of people in her life
    • The latest in caregiving advocacy state by state
  • Stay in the loop

    Establish regular ways to communicate with your local team and loved one, whether through various organization apps, group emails or social tools like FaceTime or Skype. If doctors don’t have the time or inclination to follow up with you after meeting with your loved one, you’ll need to be both assertive and creative to stay plugged in.

    Quick Tips:

    • Make good use of technology. With your loved one’s permission (or her legal proxy’s), you can implement tools like video monitors and wearable activity trackers. Also available: remote door locks (to prevent wandering in case of dementia) and even electronic pill dispensers that can notify you if someone has taken their medications.
    • Stay clued in to doctors’ orders. The person you’re caring for might not remember everything important discussed during a doctor’s appointment (who does?). You might suggest taking a digital recorder so that you can listen later, or to bring a friend to take notes.
    • Consider easy ways to coordinate. Set up an email group you can use to keep everyone up to date. You might use an online scheduling tool such as Lotsa Helping Hands to organize and stay current on who’s doing what and when.
    • Look into workplace leave policies. You may be eligible for time off from work for caregiving under the Family and Medical Leave Act (if you work for a small company or haven’t worked for your employer long, you may not be). As a compromise, some caregivers arrange to work remotely when they leave town for a caregiving visit.

    Resources

    • Be realistic and creative about what you can do from a distance
    • Amy Goyer describes the challenges of hearing loss for her Dad with Alzheimer's and the surprisingly simple solution he got from the VA
    • Follow these tips to find a Spanish-speaking physician.
    • AARP’s online community allows caregivers to share stories and advice
  • Make the most of visits

    Nothing replaces an in-person visit. So when you can manage one, come with a list of things you need to know or discuss. Try to stretch the visit so you can spend time with your loved one, but also are able to schedule key face-to-face appointments related to his well-being. Sitting down to chat with someone is far more personal and revealing than a phone call can ever be. 

    Quick Tips:

    • Meet current and potential service providers. You may want to interview potential home aides or housecleaners, or meet with social workers or other health care professionals involved in caregiving to discuss any concerns.
    • Note where new help is needed. Is a faucet dripping or the lawn overgrown? Does your loved one appear to be having trouble doing certain chores, such as laundry or grocery shopping? You can help with some tasks while you’re there, but may now need to find someone local to assist day-to-today. 
    • Look for signs of abuse. Ask your loved one if you can see his checking account and look for abnormalities. Other red flags: bruises and other unexplained injuries, or an abrupt change in personality. Be very concerned if he mentions someone you’ve never met who visits often and has been “helpful.”  
    • Have fun together. While you might have many practical tasks to check off your list, it’s important to spend quality time with your loved one, who may have decreased mobility and feel isolated. Set aside a few hours to go out to eat or to the movies, or maybe invite neighbors over for a potluck dinner.

    Resources

    • Learning to lighten up can ease tensions between you and your loved one
    • Learn how to save time and simplify the daunting tasks of caregiving
    • Many families use paid home health aides, but what if things aren't what they seem?
    • It's crucial to stay organized when you're juggling multiple medications for a loved one
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