Serving as a caregiver can be a challenge, when your loved one is far away. But with a little planning, you’ll be able to ensure he’s getting the care he needs, even if you aren’t there with him.
A Caregiver Needs Access to Health Information
Knowledge is key here. You can’t help your loved one if you don’t know her illness, the medicines she takes or her living situation. One of your first steps should be to get written permission to discuss your relative’s illness and care with her medical team. Because of the HIPPA law, they won’t be able to share information without it.
Once you have this permission and are able to consult with her medical team, you’ll have a better understanding of your loved one’s illness, the course the illness might take, what the doctors are doing to care for her and how you can help them manage it.
A Caregiver May Need to Visit With An Estate Planning Attorney
Equally important as permission to access medical information is having access to your loved one’s financial information. This may involve having a medical or specific power of attorney, so make sure these papers are in place.
One overlooked item on a long-distance caregiver’s to-do list is the home situation. Knowing the layout of the residence or facility can be helpful. Seemingly minor items such as grab bars in the tub or secure rugs can help prevent accidents that might further complicate your loved one’s medical problem needlessly.
There is often one person who is the primary caregiver, whether long-distance or local. But whether you are a sole caregiver or one of several, it’s a good idea to have one family member handle conversations with the medical team so you aren’t playing a game of “telephone” with confused and mixed information.
Another person might be tasked with handling your loved one’s financial affairs. However the responsibilities are divided, if there’s more than one family member involved in the care, it’s important to share news so everyone is kept informed. Keep vital information in one place – a notebook, a secure online document everyone has access to, or a group messaging app – and keep it updated.
Manage an Aging Parent’s Papers
Managing paperwork is a task for even the best of us; when we’re older and a bit more forgetful or dealing with medical issues, it can be downright overwhelming. Help your aging parent get organized so that they – and you, should the need arise – know where to find important documents.
As mentioned above, access to medical and financial information is key so now is the time to get important documents written, if this hasn’t already been done. Powers of attorney – both medical and general – medical directives, wills and other legal documents will make your job as a caregiver much easier.
Privacy Challenges For A Caregiver
It’s understandable that your family member may not want to share personal information with you. They may not want to get the documents drawn up if they don’t already have them. Explain to them that you’re not trying to invade their privacy or take control of their lives. Rather, it will help you find what you need in an emergency, which will ultimately help them. If they still resist, ask if they’d be willing to work with a third party, such as an attorney or trusted family friend.
To get started, make a list of essential documents; you can always add to the list as the situation evolves and you need more information. Ask your loved one where any wills, powers of attorney and medical directives are kept. If there are copies at home, make sure they’re all in one place so they’re easier to find. If originals are in a bank’s safe deposit box or attorney’s office, make sure you have permission to access them.
Gather Resources in Your Aging Parent’s City
If you’ve never lived in the same town or city as your loved one, or it’s been many years since you moved away, it’s smart to have a list of resources local to him. Many towns have a senior center with a director who can point you to local resources. Or search for the state’s Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator for local help.
If your loved one has lived in the same neighborhood for many years and is friendly with his neighbors, get to know them too. Ask them to alert you of anything out of the ordinary that may indicate a growing problem, such as him leaving the front door open when it shouldn’t be.
Keeping in Touch With Your Aging Parent and Her Local Team
When a caregiver is busy working and raising a family, it can be hard for her to stay in touch with an aging relative. Today’s technology can be a big help with staying connected. If your loved one is able and tech-savvy, giving her an electronic tablet will let her video chat with you. If your parent is in a nursing home, installing a private landline in her room will allow for easy and convenient calls between you.
Scheduling conference calls with your relative’s doctor, nursing home staff or assisted living facility team will make it easier for everyone to get and share information all at once. Sharing information through a group email or messaging app also helps the caregiver and team members to stay in touch.
Visiting with your aging parent or relative
Staying connected electronically is convenient but there’s nothing like a personal visit. Not only will you be able to reconnect with your loved one, but you’ll be able to see for yourself how well he is doing.
It’s easy to be constantly taking care of matters, especially if your time in town is limited. It’s important to put aside caregiving tasks for a while and do something enjoyable. Ask your parent what she’d like to do and then give her your full attention. You might even gain some insight into how she’s managing life.
Our parents generally don’t like to share or admit they’re having a hard time coping with an illness or aging. Quietly observing while giving them undivided attention can tell us a lot.
If there’s a primary caregiver in town, check in with him or her. Give some much-need relief so they can recharge and renew themselves. Take your mother shopping. Arrange or do a repair or yard task for your father. Giving the primary caregiver time alone is beneficial to everyone.
Being a long-distance caregiver doesn’t have to be an insurmountable job. It does take some planning, being organized and having all the information you need to help your loved one. If you have questions about setting up a legal framework to protect your family and the caregiver, contact the Law Office of Constance Aschenbrenner.