1. Being an adult caregiver can be difficult enough when you and your loved one live in the same house, or even the same town. It’s ten times as hard when you’re trying to care for someone while separated by several hundred miles. The following tips offer suggestions for coping with long distance caregiving:

    1. Enlist the help of local family, friends and neighbors.

    If you know anyone who lives close to your loved one, ask if they would be willing to check on him or her a few times a week and assist with chores like running errands, doing basic housecleaning, or putting in a load of laundry. Some people will gladly do this at no cost, others will want a little money for their time and effort. If you can afford it, it’s worth the cash.

    Make sure everyone who is helping out has your contact information, including email address, home phone, work phone and cell phone so you can be reached in case of an emergency.

    2. Get necessary legal documents and keep paperwork organized.

    As an out of town caregiver, you need to make sure you have information about your loved one and the correct legal paperwork at your fingertips. You never know when you may be called upon to fax something to a hospital in the middle of the night. Paperwork you should keep readily available includes:  

    • Your loved one’s durable powers of attorney for healthcare and financial matters
    • Your loved one’s living will
    • A copy of your loved one’s health insurance cards including the Medicare card, Medicare Part D card, and supplemental insurance cards.
    • A list of all the doctors your loved one sees, and the doctors’ contact information. Make sure your loved one has given each of the doctor’s permission to speak to you. 
    • A list of every medication your loved one takes, the dosage, and the reason he or she is taking it

    3. Schedule weekly or even daily times to talk to your loved one by phone.

    This will help you keep track of your loved one’s cognitive status as well as alert you to any potential problems. Ask the following questions during each phone call:

    • How are you feeling? Pay attention to mental health issues like depression as well as physical complaints.
    • What did you have to eat today? If your loved one can’t remember or says he or she didn’t eat, that’s a red flag.
    • Do you have enough of your medicines? Never needing a refill or needing refills too frequently can be signs of misuse of medication.
    • Is there anything you need?

    4. Tap into as many community resources as possible.

    If you’re not sure where to start, call a hospital in your loved one’s community and ask to speak to someone from the social services department. After hearing about your loved one’s circumstances, the social worker will be able to guide you to appropriate services.

    Services you might consider include home-delivered meals (sometimes referred to as Meals on Wheels), a personal medical alarm so that help is available to your loved one at the press of a button, private duty homecare, mental health counseling, a senior companion volunteer, adult daycare or senior citizens’ center and phone check-in services.

    Companies in some cities offer adult case management. These companies assign a healthcare professional to speak to you by phone and go out and interview your loved one in his or her home. The professional will then get back to you with suggestions for community resources your loved one could use. In most cases, the case management agency acts as a broker to arrange these services.

    5. Reassess the Situation Regularly

    Visit as often as you can. Be on the lookout for any signs that your loved one’s current living arrangements aren’t working. Signs may include:

    • Refrigerator and cabinets with no food
    • House dirtier/messier than usual
    • House much too hot or too cold
    • One or more utilities shut off because your loved one didn’t have the money or forgot to pay them.
    • Poor personal hygiene
    • Large sums of money missing that your loved one can’t account for
    • Inability to understand a medication schedule or take medications properly

    If you notice these signs, start thinking seriously about Plan B. In some cases, that may mean getting more community services involved. It may also mean moving your loved one into an assisted living facility or a nursing facility, or bringing your loved one home to live with you.  

    Being a long distance caregiver can be extremely stressful, but if you get support from friends and family, keep your paperwork in line, stay in regular touch with your loved one, tap into community sources and reassess the situation often, you may be able to help your loved one stay in his or her home for many extra months or years.

    Email Debra if you have questions or comments about adult caregiving.   

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