Strategies for Long-Distance Caregiving
by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, Director of Care Management
November and December include multiple occasions to gather, often resulting in family members traveling from a distance to spend time with aging parents and loved ones, whom they don’t see regularly because of geographic separation. These visits sometimes result in family members becoming aware of changes in their older adult loved ones that may elevate their concern for that person’s well-being. Calls to care managers increase during January after long-distance family members return home and begin looking for assistance to address the needs of their aging loved ones.
Providing care from a distance is a challenge for adult children, grandchildren, or other family members who may be ultimately responsible for the well-being of an aging loved one. In addition to geographic distance, commitments like work and family obligations can limit a long-distance caregiver’s availability. Many long-distance caregivers must also factor in the economic impact of taking time off work and paying for travel to see their aging loved one. Family dynamics may also be present depending on how any local family perceives the efforts of someone who isn’t regularly available to help.
An Aging Life Care professional can assist a long-distance caregiver in determining how to help from afar. Communication and planning are the foundation when a family identifies that long-distance caregiving will be their reality. In the article, “Family-Social Tasks in Long Distance Caregiving,” authors Roff et al provide related tasks for helping families organize the care of their aging loved ones. These tasks echo our experience as care managers guiding our client families as they cope with the challenge of helping their aging family members.
The first group of tasks revolves around acquiring and exchanging information. Anticipate what you will need to know before a crisis occurs! Help your loved one gather and organize personal information starting with emergency contacts. Add to the list the names of a few trusted individuals you can contact to check on them if you can’t reach your loved one. Include physician information and spiritual advisors, or other important people who interact with them regularly. Ensure your own contact information is posted in a prominent place in their home. If your loved one uses a cell phone, ask to enter your number as an emergency contact. Work with your loved one to organize and secure important documents, including birth certificates, copies of social security numbers, Medicare and supplemental insurance cards, and banking and bill-paying information. Legal documents including a will or trust and their advance health care directive should be included. Copies of all this information should be kept in a fireproof location. Many families are now also opting for digital files that can be accessed remotely when needed.
Familiarize yourself with information to help your loved one age successfully, including information about exercise, social engagement, and nutrition. Develop awareness of any chronic conditions they may be living with and learn about organizations that can offer support and resources. Identify the Area Agency on Aging for their region and learn about the social service resources available in their community, for example, the location and programming of the nearest senior centers. It may sound like a daunting task to gather all this information but it’s time and effort well spent. When a concern arises, or a crisis occurs, a long-distance caregiver who is equipped with adequate information can respond more readily and effectively.
Next month, we’ll discuss tasks that revolve around conversation about caregiving values and wishes, and planning strategies to meet a loved one’s care needs.
Roff, Lucinda Lee, et al. “Family-Social Tasks in Long Distance Caregiving.” GCM Journal, 2003, pp. 30–35.