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Five Ways Long-Distance Families Can Help Aging Relatives

By Denise Kuhbier, MS, RN, LNHA, CCM, Senior Vice President of Care, LeanOnWe

Even when you live close to your aging loved ones, it’s not always easy to carve out time to help. But when you live more than an hour away and your help is needed, these five steps can ease the stress of overseeing from afar.

Be alerted

A key concern for all family caregivers, but particularly those who live far away, is home safety. Consider buying a Personal Emergency Response System to be worn around the neck, installing grab bars and anti-slip products in bathrooms, and evaluating whether your parent is safe to still drive. And more and more families are turning to technology — installing cameras (be sure to check the privacy laws in your state) or using other innovative new assistive tech products to monitor health, safety, and activity in the home.

Get permission

Be sure you have the appropriate medical and legal permission to act as Health Care Proxy (so you can follow your loved ones’ medical wishes, especially if there are family disagreements about the right surgery, medical tests, or life-saving intervention) and Power of Attorney (so you can legally oversee investments, pay or dispute bills, resolve legal matters, and make other decisions) should someone become incapacitated. It’s also a good idea to make sure they have an Advanced Directive in place and that you have a copy.

You’ll also want to collect all policy numbers and information needed to pay household bills now or in the future. This includes utilities, insurance (auto, life, long-term care, medical, and homeowners), rent or mortgage payments, credit cards, and more. These records should be stored in a secure drive or location. And be sure you have contact information for all doctors, attorneys, accountants, investment managers, neighbors, superintendents, and other key people in your loved ones’ lives.

Hire home care help

Whether you hire someone on your own or use a home care agency, finding the right home care arrangement can take time and effort. Some things to consider when hiring from afar:

  • Schedule regular update calls — a minimum of twice weekly. Putting the calls on everyone’s calendar ensures that you and the caregiver are committed to staying in touch. It can be semi-weekly or every day if you’d like — remember that you’re the one who sets the ground rules. It’s useful to keep a running list of questions or concerns as they jump out at you between calls and ask your aide to do the same. And if possible, use Skype or FaceTime. Nothing can entirely replace face-to-face interaction, but video calls at least give you a glimpse into your parents’ home and his or her relationship with the caregiver.
  • Establish clear boundaries and clear expectations between you and your aide while maintaining open and trusted communication. Be sure everyone agrees how the aide should handle sensitive issues like managing money, monitoring medications, and emergencies. Tension can develop unless you are clear about which decisions the aide can make and which ones should be brought to you.
  • If you find it difficult to travel to your loved one, consider bringing them and the caregiver to you instead. Make the trip enjoyable by including visits with other family members and planning family activities. While the trip will be a vacation for the family, the caregiver will continue his or her regular duties during the visit and their travel expenses and salary will be paid. A visit like this will also help you get a peek into the routine and relationship they have established.

Set aside money

Nationally, out-of-town family members spend almost double — $12,000+ a year on average, according to an AARP study — helping aging loved ones when they live more than an hour away. The additional expenses that all families incur run the gamut from health and safety expenses, medical bills, home modification, and finding the right home health aide. And for those who don’t live nearby, travel and lodging.

Consider professional assistance

If you are not yet familiar with the field of care management, take some time to get to know how an Aging Life Care Professional (also known as a Geriatric Care Manager/GCM) can help your family. These professionals — often nurses or social workers — are elder care experts who can help you manage medical care and find the services you need for your loved one. They can be invaluable for people managing care from afar. A GCM generally begins the process with an in-person assessment that forms the basis to create a care plan to address both physical and psychological needs. On an ongoing basis, GCM services can include everything from accompanying clients to doctor appointments and relocating a senior to assisted living, overseeing home care aides, and helping a senior with community engagement and socialization.

About The Author

Denise has been working in home care for more than 25 years. She is a Registered Nurse, a Certified Case Manager, an Aging Life Care Professional™, and a Nursing Home Administrator. At LeanOnWe, she oversees the screening of all caregivers and helps new customers hire caregivers for themselves or their loved ones.

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