More than 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult relative, according to a recent AARP study. While it can be rewarding, being a caregiver can also be stressful and complicated, particularly for the 11% of caregivers who live an hour or more away from their loved one. The geographic distance often places an added burden on the caregiver who must coordinate, monitor and oversee their relative’s situation remotely.
If you are a remote caregiver, here are some tips to help you on this journey.
Begin by gathering information about your loved ones’ finances, healthcare, lifestyle and preferences. Ideally, you will initiate a conversation about these issues before a healthcare or other crisis strikes. Compile the following information:
- Names/contact information of healthcare providers
- Medical diagnoses and prescriptions taken
- Names/amounts/policy numbers of health, life and long-term care insurance policies
- Names/account numbers of bank accounts, investments and other financial instruments
If possible, speak with an elder care attorney about creating a durable power of attorney to enable you to handle healthcare and financial matters. Have your loved one complete a health care proxy and Living Will outlining their wishes. At the very least, ensure that your loved ones have completed necessary paperwork to allow their healthcare providers to share medical information with you.
Keep careful records of all information pertaining to your loved one. Document all calls, visits, conversations, and money spent on their behalf.
Once your loved one begins to require assistance, your role shifts to team captain. As a remote caregiver, it will be essential for you to add others who live nearby to the team. Paid helpers such as drivers, housekeepers, dog walkers and home health aides, as well as trusted neighbors and family members may be among those you rely upon to be your eyes and ears. Make sure that somebody whom you trust has an extra set of keys to your loved ones’ home and can be there quickly in the event of an emergency.
As team captain, you may be responsible for such tasks as hiring paid help, paying household bills and expenses, ensuring that living arrangements continue to meet your loved ones’ needs and arranging for alternatives if they do not, and monitoring your loved ones’ medical care.
Technology is your friend in this situation. Communicate via video platforms such as Skype or FaceTime, and consider deploying video monitors, wearable trackers, electronic medication dispensers and other tech-based devices to help you stay connected.
Hiring a local professional such as a healthcare advocate or care manager can provide you with extra peace of mind. While these services are generally not covered by insurance, these professionals may ultimately save you time and money by connecting your loved one with local resources and free or low-cost programs to assist them in a variety of ways.
Although you may live far from your loved one, make the most of any time you have together. Schedule interviews with healthcare providers and paid help during your visits. And don’t forget to take time to do things that your loved one enjoys, like going out for a meal, taking a walk or a drive, or just sharing precious memories together.
Lastly, practice self-care. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and try not to be overwhelmed by stress, guilt or anxiety. Being a remote caregiver isn’t easy, but it is truly a labor of love.