Caregiving From Long Distance
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) defines long distance caregiving as providing care for a person who lives an hour or more away. This type of caregiving takes many forms – from arranging for in-home care, money management, bill paying, and information coordinator. You may also provide respite care for a primary caregiver, conduct safety reviews, create emergency plans, or any combination of these tasks. Legal publisher Nolo cites more than seven million adults in the US acting as long-distance caregivers for elderly parents or relatives.
The greatest success in long distance caregiving happens when there is a foundation of planning and preparation. If there is a primary caregiver for your parent, ask how you can be most useful. Also, talk to friends who provide care to see if they have helpful suggestions. You will need to identify local resources that can help provide care for your parent. Local providers can include Meals-on-Wheels, senior centers, elder transportation, and more. The National Institute on Aging offers several good websites to use as a starting point. It is best to visit your parent before planning to assess their current living situation, identify their health issues, and gather important information.
Things to consider as you go through each room of the home, the garage, and the yard include
- Safety – Is there anything that poses a safety problem in the location? Poor lighting, area rugs, clutter, or whatever else might stop your senior from moving safely around the space should be removed or improved.
- Accessibility – Are things accessible to the senior? Are they within easy reach? Are switches, doors, plugs, and cabinets readily at hand to perform the room's desired or necessary tasks?
- Adaptability – Are there ways to adapt things in the room to provide greater accessibility, safety, or ease of use? Will brighter lights or additional railings, grab bars, and even a stairlift help your parent?
Check to see if your loved one is taking proper care of themselves including
- Home care – Is their living space clean? Is food properly stored and the kitchen clean? Is there any clutter posing a safety hazard?
- Food – Can you parent prepare themselves a nutritious meal? Are the pantry and refrigerator stocked with good food that is not out of date? Are they drinking enough water? If they have a pet, do they properly provide them water, food, and outdoor activity?
- Medical care – Is your loved one taking all of their medications in the right dosages and at the right time? Can they fill their prescriptions at the drug store? Are they able to transport themselves to doctor appointments and labs for blood workups? Do they calendar, remember, and go to their doctor appointments? If they have a pet, do they take them to see a veterinarian for routine examination?
- Finances – Are there stacks of unopened mail around the house? Are bills left lying around? These warning signs are a good time to take over their bill payment or set them up on auto payments through their bank.
- Driving ability – If your parent is still operating a car, truck, even a golf cart, are they doing so safely? If you find increasing numbers of traffic tickets or warning violations, they frequently become lost or experience fender benders while parking, or easily become nervous, angry, or frustrated while driving; it may be time for your parent to hang up the keys.
- Lifestyle – Does your parent drink alcohol to excess? Do they smoke? Do they participate in medical or recreational marijuana? These activities can cause negative interactions with medications, create mental confusion, and increase the risk of falling.
Gather contact information for neighbors, friends, clergy, or anyone your parent is in contact with regularly. While these relationships are informal, these are people you can rely on to help out in an emergency. Review medical care records, remembering to get doctors' names, emails, and phone numbers. Include medical insurance information, medications, and other important data on a comprehensive list. Update the list quarterly or anytime you know there is a change. Does your parent live in a "smart home?" Learn the passwords and interact with the audio-video and health monitoring functions to watch for potential problems and communicate with them.
At a bare minimum, know where your parents store their financial information. If it is online, request the passwords. Suppose you need to manage their money remotely. In that case, you will need details about income sources, checking and savings accounts, monthly bills and expenses, social security benefits and other government assistance programs, and investment accounts. Contact information should include accountants, tax preparers, or other people who know about your loved one's finances.
Get copies of relevant legal documents and know where your parent keeps the originals, including wills, house deeds, and advance health care directives. If your parent has an attorney, get their contact information and introduce yourself to them. If you parent needs an attorney we would be happy to set up a meeting.
Once you conclude your initial assessment, regularly speak with your parents and visit as much as you are able. Build your network of local contacts and coordinate with them to assess changes. Know that your plan is going to change often. Even if your parents can remain in their home, they will require more services and care as they age, and you will need to be responsive to these changes. There is no one solution for every living situation. Begin with a solid assessment of your parent's current needs and prepare and plan with that information as your starting point.
We help seniors plan for the possibility of needing long term care, and we ensure the proper legal documents are in place so that their wishes regarding their finances and their care will be carried out. If you or your parents would like to discuss the possibility of long term care and how to access financial resources to pay for that care, we would be happy to speak with you. And if you are outside of Florida, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.