“My sister and I both live in different cities far from our elderly father, and neither of us can visit as often as we like. We both worry we aren’t doing enough to help him. Should we try to move him to be near us, or can long-distance caregiving work for our family?” Stephen from Franklin, Tennessee

When you live out of town, you may not be able to act as your senior’s primary caregiver. That does not mean you do not have a vital role in your loved one’s care. What you lack in physical proximity you can make up for in organization and coordination. The key to successful long-distance caregiving is having a structured plan, contingency resources, and an effective, dedicated, and knowledgeable support team on your side.

What’s the Plan?

The best place to start is by educating yourself with information about your senior. You should know everything from health conditions, doctors, and medications to financial and legal matters, especially if you are long-distance caregiving. Gather it together and get organized, either with hard copies or an online cache or spreadsheet that illustrates the total picture. Be sure you do not leave any stone uncovered when pulling together this inventory of your loved one’s life. Remember to review each of these aspects:

  • Your senior’s identifying information, such as social security number, health insurance information, and other insurance policies, such as life, home, auto, long-term care, or any other specific coverage
  • A list of all doctors your loved one sees, including phone numbers, addresses, and what they are treating your senior for
  • Any other medical providers that perform a service for your senior, such as physical therapists, audiologists, and social workers
  • A detailed explanation of each medication prescribed to your loved one, including prescription name, dosage, prescribing doctor, and how it is administered; be sure to list any supplements or over-the-counter medicines as well
  • A record of all living expenses, such as facility fees for assisted living or memory care residences, mortgage for the primary homestead, utilities, credit cards, or any other regular expenditures
  • A register of all financial information – bank accounts, investment accounts, properties, vehicles, retirement funds, safety deposit boxes, or any other asset, complete with account numbers, names of banks or brokers, value or cost, and any other identifying information

The goal is to have a complete record of everything that your loved one has, uses, needs, or owes, so that you do not have any surprises down the road. Copies of important documents, including birth and marriage certificates, titles and deeds, and any other forms should be kept in one location. It sounds like a lot of work, but it can save you time later.

Of course, none of this may be possible without a power of attorney that gives you permission from your loved one to access this information. If you or another family member has not been designated as your senior’s POA, this is where your efforts should begin.

In the Event of an Emergency

Whether your loved one is aging in place or in a residential facility, he or she may have a change in financial or physical health. The better prepared you are for an unexpected event, the better you can deal with it. Have a conversation with the primary caregiver, your senior, your social worker or Aging Life Care Manager, and any other involved family member to discuss what options are available and what resources you may need to best address any change in circumstance. While you cannot anticipate every incident or outcome, you may be able to handle long-distance caregiving with a contingency plan in place.

Building Your Team

When you live in a different area, you should have eyes and ears on the ground that you can trust to care for your loved one with compassion and skill as well as someone who can share honest, accurate information with you. Consider working with a local coordinator or Aging Life Care Manager who has the knowledge, network, and resources to operate as a liaison and advocate for your senior. This is especially important as we deal with the pandemic, when access to your loved one may be even more limited.

Involve other family members to share the responsibilities outside of the scope of an Aging Life Care Manager. After you have a better idea of what assistance your loved one needs, you can delegate these tasks to reduce stress on you or the primary caregiver. Whether its financial management, dealing with insurance companies, sharing information, or providing respite care and emotional support, everyone on the team has a part to play.

See for Yourself

Do not underestimate the value of a visit. When you see your loved one in person, you can get a better sense of how your senior is doing. It is also a great opportunity for you to help the primary caregiver with any needs and look for any signs of elder abuse, including physical harm, neglect, or financial exploitation. With social distancing recommendations in place, your ability to have a face-to-face visit may be next to impossible, so you may need to rely on video chatting and phone calls until it becomes safer to travel and resume visits. When it is again possible, set aside some quality time for your senior as well, perhaps eating a meal together, watching a movie, playing a game, or sitting and chatting.

Please know that you are not alone; many families manage long-distance caregiving quite well with the right help.

Best of luck!


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