Caring for an aging loved one can be a challenge. Caring for an aging loved one long-distance can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Today, millions of families are separated by distance. As our loved ones age and seem to require more assistance, there are ways to provide that assistance without traveling 2 or 3 times per month. Here are some of the ways you can manage.
We touched on many of these important tips in an earlier post about ways seniors can manage to live independently more effectively, but they ring especially true for people who are called on to provide long-distance care. The following tips tailor our earlier recommendations to families who provide care from a distance.
The next time you visit:
- Assess Your Loved One’s Situation
This is a very important piece to providing care to a loved one, particularly from far away. You will need to consider both physical and mental health needs, including any signs of dementia or cognitive issues. Physical needs include the needs within the home to determine if changes need to be made to assure your loved one’s safety. Various organizations offer tools online for determining exactly what your loved one may need, and many local agencies will do a consultation and assessment without charge. CareAparent does such assessments, and will help you make difficult decisions about whether it may be necessary to hire in-home services or even move your loved one to a home or living environment that meets his or her needs more closely.
- Gather Important Information
“Important Information” includes names and phone numbers for physicians and hospitals, insurance information, a copy of a Health Care Directive and a will, a medications inventory and banking information. It would be wise to include with the information titles to property and vehicles, as well as documents and contact information for any lawyers, accountants, businesses, or spiritual advisors. If you are unable to gather the specific documents, it is a good idea to t least identify where the documents are stored or filed. The names and numbers for service providers for electricity, cable, or internet should be recorded as well. Keep a copy of this information for yourself and store a copy for your loved one in a safe place such as a safe or lock box, or a safety deposit box at a bank. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a fabulous worksheet you can use as a tool to help gather information here.
- Consider a Power of Attorney
Depending upon your loved one’s physical and mental health, you may want to consider having your loved one execute a Power of Attorney. This is a legal document which must be notarized that allows you to act on behalf of your loved one in nearly every capacity, including banks and credit card companies. This is an extremely broad document which gives the person named a great deal of power. As a result, it should not be used unless it is necessary, and you should consult with an attorney to have the document drafted. At the same time, make sure your loved one has a current Health Care Directive. This allows another person to make health care decisions if you loved one cannot communicate their wishes. Both documents can be very effective for assisting a loved one from far away.
- Meet With Important Contacts
Reach out to your loved one’s friends and neighbors, as well as relatives who may live close by. Gather their contact information so that you can enlist their help in the event of an emergency. Although you can’t anticipate every emergency, some can be handled by friends, neighbors, and other relatives without the need for your physical presence. Keep the information in a place where you can access it at any moment, such as a smart phone. When and if you need some help, don’t hesitate to make contact with people close by to your loved one.
- Make the Home Senior-Safe
The most common injuries to seniors living at home are the result of falls. Falls can cause serious injury which could result in long-term complications requiring a move. Many falls can be prevented by making minor, inexpensive adjustments to the home environment. There are resources online to help you address some of the most important ways to minimize the risk of falls. The Center for Disease Control offers a free online checklist and brochure here. At the same time, a list of important or emergency phone numbers should be created and posted in a visible place in the home, such as the front of the refrigerator or taped next to the telephone. Be sure to include a number for the doctor, local police, poison control and the electric and gas company on this list.
- Create a resource list
If there is one thing we have learned from our own loved ones and clients, it is the necessity of having a ready list of people and companies to call when you need them. This is especially true when you are providing care long-distance. Creating a resource list in advance with contacts close to your loved one will reduce stress and save time later on. We recommend you have a list that includes a reliable: plumber; electrician; appliance repair company; chimney/duct cleaning company; carpet cleaning company; lawn and snow removal services; and a handyman. I can’t help but toot our company horn here, as CareAparent™ a Care for the Home program that helps put families in touch with the right companies. Feel free to call us about it!
It’s important to remember that if you are not able to travel or make a visit to a loved one’s home to gather information or do an assessment, there are agencies that will assist you. Do your homework and check your options.
Caregiving from afar:
Once you have set the stage for providing the care your loved one needs, you can manage more easily. With everything else in place, you can take easy steps to make sure your loved one is cared for.
- Communicate Often
Regular communication will be key to staying on top of what your loved one needs. We recommend daily communication. There are so many ways to accomplish this, such as email, phone, email, Skype, Facetime, or some other method that works for everyone. Communicating regularly helps you to track changes that are occurring as well as your loved one’s overall well-being.
- Take Advantage of Technology.
Smart phones and tablets are not the only ways that technology has evolved. There are some amazing systems out there that won’t require a second mortgage. Medical and life alerts can be a valuable way to help assure the safety of a loved one. If you need to take it a step further, there are plenty of real-time camera systems that allow remote monitoring and can be easily installed to make sure your loved one is safe. You may even consider installing an alarm system programmed to automatically call the police or fire department in the event of a break-in or fire. Work with your loved one to determine the best types of emergency alert and monitoring systems.
Caring for a loved long distance may require assistance from an outside company. Learn about the companies that are located near your loved one and provide services that you need. To that end, agencies like CareAparent™ offer unique programming options like twice monthly “checks” that are cost-effective and worthwhile. It’s worth a conversation or an email to find out of this type of program works for your family.
© 2015 CareAparent™
All rights reserved. No part or portion of this article can be reprinted without the express written permission of the CareAparent.™
Lisa McLeod Lofquist is an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota and is the co-founder and President of CareAparent™, a home care agency for seniors. Contact Lisa by email at lisa.lofquist@careAparent.com.