Long Distance Caregiving What You Need to Know

We all want our elderly loved ones to live near us, but that is not always possible due to where our jobs are located or other circumstances.  We often find ourselves many hours or days away from where our parents are living. Our loves ones may also be living in a facility. In any case, we want to remain connected and to take charge of, or be well-informed of, the care your loved ones are receiving.

This can be a difficult undertaking if impromptu visits are not possible. But there are several things you can do if long distance caregiving is your reality.

  1. Be well-informed. Know all you can about your loved one’s medical condition and needs. Gain access to your family member’s medical records or obtain Power-of-Attorney in situations where it is advised by your elder law lawyer. A Health Care Proxy with Advance Medical Directives, with HIPAA designations, will give you the authority to speak to the medical providers and to make medical decisions if your loved ones cannot make them themselves. If there are other siblings, have one person take the lead and be the one who talks to the medical providers and accumulates the medical records. Be organized and have them readily accessible to other family members for review. This can be valuable for all caregivers such as social or geriatric care workers.
  2. Plan your visits. Try to make visits on a set schedule such as once or twice per month, if possible. You will want to make the most of your time together by finding out what your family member may need such as new clothes, furniture, new appliances, repairs around the house, or whatever else is a priority. You can plan on seeing certain movies, going to a concert, hairdresser, visiting a favorite restaurant, seeing a play, art gallery, bookstore, or any other event that your family member would like to see or experience. You may also want to plan your visits when your family member has a medical appointment or will be undergoing a medical procedure. Take the opportunity to make other appointments as needed when you are visiting.
  3. Stay in touch with the care facility. If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, schedule periodic teleconferences with the staff to get a progress report on your relative’s health, social interactions, and other activities. If there are concerns, make notes so you can discuss it with other family members. If your parent is still at home, stay in touch with a friend who lives nearby who can regularly visit or stay in touch with your parent and who can give you an honest assessment of how they are doing
  4. Is other assistance needed? There are many services for your elderly parent such as meal services and grocery stores that have online sites where you can shop online and have groceries delivered free of charge. Local Elder Affairs, Social workers who work with the elderly, or geriatric care managers can help facilitate this and other services.
  5. Be aware of signs of trouble. When visiting or talking on the phone to your loved one, be cognizant of changes in mood or memory. Nursing facilities can make mistakes, such as how medications are given, or not maintaining a clean environment, or ignoring signs of dementia or other illnesses, like UTI’s or low grade fevers. Instances of verbal and physical abuse are not uncommon. You know your parent better than anyone and can likely tell if your loved one is beginning to show signs of cognitive decline. If so, immediately contact the primary medical provider. If you notice signs of bruising on your loved one’s arms or legs including restraint marks, or that the room is not being cleaned, or your loved one appears withdrawn or fearful of staff, it is time to make serious inquiries and report your concerns to the Ombudsman.

Caring for an elderly loved one, whether they live nearby or not, takes time and dedication. You cannot do everything on your own but if you are organized, well-informed, have other professionals involved,  know what services are available, and carefully plan out your visits, then even long-distance caregiving can make it seem that you are much closer and your visits more rewarding.

Consult Elder Law Lawyer Patricia Bloom-McDonald

With more than 28-years of legal experience dealing with issues that primarily are of concern to the elderly, Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald can counsel, advise, and represent you in estate planning, probate, real estate, and other elder law issues. Call Attorney Bloom-McDonald for a no cost, one-hour consultation, to discuss any of these matters.