Getting Started with Long-Distance Caregiving
Reprinted from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-started-long-distance-caregiving
Anyone, anywhere, can be a long-distance caregiver. If you are living an hour or more away from a person who needs your help, you’re probably a long-distance caregiver.
What can I really do from far away?
Long-distance caregivers take on different roles. You may:
- Help with finances, money management, or bill paying.
- Arrange for in-home care—hire professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides and help get needed durable medical equipment.
- Locate care in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
- Provide emotional support and occasional respite care for a primary caregiver, the person who takes on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities.
- Research health problems or medicines, help navigate through a maze of new needs, and clarify insurance benefits and claims.
- Keep family and friends updated and informed.
- Create a plan and get paperwork in order in case of an emergency.
- Evaluate the house and make sure it’s safe for the older person’s needs.
Over time, as your family member’s needs change, so will your role as long-distance caregiver.
I’m new to long-distance caregiving—what should I do first?
To get started, ask the primary caregiver, if there is one, and the care recipient how you can be most helpful. Then,
- Talk to friends who are caregivers to see if they have suggestions about ways to help.
- Read Silver Sage Magazine’s Caregiving section for resources and learn how others do it.
- Develop an understanding of the person’s health issues and other needs.
- Visit as often as you can.
Many of us don’t automatically have a lot of caregiver skills. Some local chapters of the American Red Cross might offer courses, as do some nonprofit organizations focused on caregiving.
As a caregiver, what do I need to know about my family member’s health?
Learn as much as you can about your family member’s condition and treatment. This can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist in healthcare management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier.
- Get written permission through a Health Proxy, as needed under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, to receive medical and financial information.
- Try putting together a notebook, on paper or online, that includes all the vital information about medical care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues, and so on. Keep it up-to-date.
How can I be most helpful during my visit?
- Talk to the care recipient ahead of time and find out what they would like to do during your visit.
- Check with the primary caregiver to learn what he or she needs. This helps you set clear and realistic goals for the visit.
- Decide on the priorities and leave other tasks to another visit.
Remember to actually spend time visiting with your family member. Try to make time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver – watch a movie, play a game, or take a drive. Finding time to do something simple and relaxing can help everyone—it can be fun and build family memories.
How can I stay connected from far away?
Many families schedule conference calls with doctors, the assisted living facility team, or nursing home staff so that several relatives can be in one conversation and get the same up-to-date information about health and progress.
Don’t underestimate the value of a phone and email contact list. It is a simple way to keep everyone updated on your parents’ needs.
You may also want to give the person you care for a cell phone Or, if your family member lives in a nursing home, consider having a private phone line installed in his or her room. Program telephone numbers of doctors, friends, family members, and yourself into the phone, and perhaps provide a list of the speed-dial numbers to keep with the phone. Such simple strategies can be a lifeline.
Learn about geriatric care managers and how they may be able to support you and your family in your role as caregivers.
Where can I find local resources for my family member?
Searching online is a good way to start collecting resources. Here are a few potentially helpful places to look:
Eldercare Locator, 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
National Institute on Aging website
Family Care Navigator
Your state government’s website
You might also check with local senior centers. Learn more about long-distance caregiving.
For a print copy of NIA’s booklet on Long-Distance Caregiving: Twenty Questions and Answers, visit https://order.nia.nih.gov/.
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