Many adult children don’t think much about what to do when their parents can’t live alone any more until they are actually faced with the need to help them or move them into a place that is safe and secure. If you live in a different city or state from your aging parents, you may not be on hand to address sudden changes in their health or day-to-day needs. Whether it’s simply gathering information about your loved one’s care needs, or coordinating living and medical services, caregiving from a distance involves a substantial investment of resources, time, and preparation.
Long-distance caregiving can take many forms. From afar, you might:
Help with finances, money management, or bill paying
Arrange for in-home care by hiring professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides
Locate care in an assisted living facility or nursing home (also known as a skilled nursing facility)
Provide emotional support and occasional respite care for a primary caregiver, the person who takes on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities
Manage medical bills and health records
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
To get started:
Schedule a family meeting. Gather family and friends involved in your loved one's care to discuss goals, air feelings and divide up duties.
Get organized. Compile notes about your loved one's medical condition and any legal or financial issues. Include contact numbers, insurance information, account numbers and other important details. 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. Make copies for other caregivers, and keep it up-to-date.
Research your loved one's illness and treatment. This will help you understand what your loved one is going through, the course of the illness, what you can do to prevent crises and how to assist with disease management. It might also make it easier to talk to your loved one's doctors.
Keep in touch with your loved one's providers. In coordination with your loved one and his or her other caregivers, schedule calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in your loved one's health. Be sure to have your loved one sign a release allowing the doctor to discuss medical issues with you and keep a backup copy in your files.
You may also be able to log into your loved one's medical records online to see test results, medications, after-visit summaries and more. Medical office staff members can tell you if they offer electronic medical records and how to request permission.
Bear in mind that your loved one will make final health care decisions unless he or she has named a medical power of attorney. This is a type of advance directive regarding preferences for medical care.
Ask your loved one's friends for help. Stay in touch with your loved one's friends and neighbors. Ask your loved one who he or she would prefer to come around on a regular basis, and ask those people to regularly check in on your loved one. They might be able to help you understand what's going on with your loved one on a daily basis.
Seek professional help. If necessary, hire someone to help with meals, personal care and other needs.
Plan for emergencies. Set aside time and money in case you need to make unexpected visits to help your loved one.
Stay in touch. Make daily phone calls. Send cards.