U.S. families are caring for vulnerable loved ones each day. According to AARP, much of that care is delivered over long distances. Decades ago, it was common for both immediate and extended families to live under the same roof making in-home care for senior loved ones significantly easier. However, by the early 80s, a small percentage of American homes included grandparents. Today, family members often live hundreds of miles apart, making in-home, long-term care options a bit more challenging for seniors.
Long-distance family caregiving comes with its own unique set of challenges. Physically, financially, logistically, and emotionally it is impossible to be in two places at once. Adult children juggling work, who may be caring for their own children find they have limited time and resources to travel to provide care for a senior loved one.
However, with the right planning, adult children can prepare to provide their aging parents or other senior loved ones with the care that they need. Below we have provided ten steps that might help to make the process a little easier.
Gather All Important Documents
Gather together your parent, or senior loved one’s legal, financial, and medical information. Depending on their individual situation, this list could be lengthy but often includes common items such as birth certificates, bank and investment account locations, medical records and medications, insurance policies, and monthly bills. Also, don’t forget to ask about online account passwords should you need access to these accounts, and your parent or loved one cannot provide it.
Gather together documents such as wills, advanced directives, and powers of attorneys as well. Consider keeping two copies of these materials, leaving one set with your loved one and another for your records.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Loved One’s Insurance Policies, Investments, and Health Benefits
Many consumer surveys reveal that people often misunderstand who pays for long-term care services or senior living community services. It is essential to familiarize yourself with your parents or loved one’s insurance policies and other health and retirement benefits to understand who pays for the kind of care they will need or want in the long term.
Talk About Their Plans
If you are caring for a loved one from a distance, it is especially important to understand their long-term care and end of life plans. Find out how they would like to be cared for now and what care they want when they can no longer communicate their wishes. Also, ensure that they have a living will or durable power of attorney so that all family members are aware and can respect their written decisions.
Create a Contact List
Create a contact list of important people in your parent or loved one’s lives. This list should include not only medical providers such as physicians, local hospitals, pharmacies, or emergency care providers but also in-home care providers, neighbors, and friends. If your parent or loved one is still living at home, ask them to introduce you to a neighbor, they would trust with the key to their home or someone you could call if they needed assistance.
Investigate Community and Senior Resources
Numerous studies show that social stimulation and physical activity enhance health, happiness, and longevity. Help your parents or senior loved one find a local Senior Center or discuss transitioning to a senior living community where they can participate in group activities. Participation in hobbies such as art lessons or even volunteer opportunities can enrich their lives and reduce the chances of isolation.
When You Visit-Assess their Environment
When you visit, assess possible safety hazards in your parents or loved one’s home and make any necessary modifications. Many falls happen at home, and therefore simple changes to their living areas can help reduce this risk. Take the time to remove potential hazards, improve lighting, and install handrails on the stairs and grab bars in the bathroom. Also, rearrange the furniture to keep pathways clear and make items that they use daily more easily accessible.
If you provide care for seeing your loved one from a distance, frequent visits may not be possible. However, with today’s technology, it is easier than ever to keep in touch. If they do not have one yet, get your parent a cell phone. Make sure they are easy to use and pre-loaded with family numbers, emergency, and other pertinent contact information. If you were able, teach your parents how to use the video chatting application and schedule regular calls. These video calls can allow you to see each other and help you detect any potential problems along the way.
Ensure You Can Communicate with Their Physicians
Providing care from a distance adds a certain level of complication when it comes to participating in your parent or loved one’s medical appointments. Ask your parents to grant you permission to inquire about the status of care directly with their physician, in-home care provider, or the staff at their senior living community. This will enable you to follow up if you have any specific concerns or questions regarding medical treatment or their ongoing care plan. If possible, arrange to be available by phone during their next appointment so you can remain informed about existing or newly diagnosed conditions.
Consider In-Home Services or Senior Living Communities
A home health professional can help your loved one with activities of daily living. These may include medication management, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and transportation to medical appointments. A well trained and thoroughly screened professional caregiver spending even a few hours a week with your loved one can help them remain independent at home while monitoring their medical needs and providing peace of mind for you. If your loved one’s medical needs or daily care needs ar