Caring for an aging loved one can be a very challenging responsibility, even under the best of circumstances. But, when the caring must be done long distance, you add a whole other layer of complexity and difficulty. Even an hour’s distance can increase hardship exponentially in the context of our always too-busy lives.
In this first part of a 2-part blog post, we’ll give you some steps you can take that will make your new role a bit easier.
According to recent studies, approximately 5 to 7 million caregivers in the U.S. are long-distance caregivers. These people currently represent almost 15% of all caregivers in the U.S., and their numbers are expected to double by 2020. And, as expected, long-distance caregivers tend to have a heavier financial and emotional burden than caregivers who are caring for loved ones who either live with them or live locally.
Long-distance caregivers have the highest expenses (on average, almost $9,000 annually), and are 47% more likely than other caregivers to experience emotional distress related to caregiving.
The key to holding your own when caring for a loved one who lives far away is being intentional and thoughtful about how you approach the responsibility. You need to take steps to give yourself a strong base of support in terms of information, people, process, and your own self care.
There are a lot of moving parts to manage when you’re taking on the role of caregiver. Not only are there day-to-day and health considerations to worry about, there are also financial issues, long-term considerations, and unexpected developments that come out of nowhere and blindside you.
As you transition into the role of caregiver, think about what you can do up front to help you get all the proverbial ducks in a row. You will have an easier time of it if you are able to have all the information you need more or less at your fingertips.
Here is a starter list of some information and documents you may want to look into:
- Gather as much information as you can on your loved one’s medical history, health, and medications. For your own convenience, make sure you have permission for online access (when available) to medical records and appointment schedules, etc.
- Do some research into any specific medical conditions your loved one may have. This will help you know what to expect, what to look for, and also help you empathize with their experience.
- Locate and centralize all your loved one’s important documents including birth certificate, social security card, insurance documentation (health, auto, life, homeowner’s, etc.), bank accounts and other financial assets.
- Review and update all relevant legal documents that you may need in place to effectively manage and support your loved one, including medical release forms, advance medical power of attorney (health care proxy), Will and general power of attorney, any trust documents, etc. Also consider possibly creating joint ownership of particular assets in order to ensure easier access and the ability to manage things on behalf of your loved one.
In addition, you can save yourself a lot of stress when an emergency arises if you’ve done a little extra planning for unexpected travel.
- If your loved one lives within driving distance, make sure that your vehicle is always in good repair and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- If you need to travel further and via alternate modes of transport, do some research ahead of time to determine best travel options and routes.
- It’s also a good idea to prep your employer for unplanned absences, and look into the possibility of taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- If you have children and/or pets, have a plan in place to provide them with care in case you need to be away.
Being organized always helps us to perform better, in all areas of our lives. And since caring for a loved one long distance presents so many challenges – upping our organization game is a great idea.
Keep an eye out for next week’s post which will talk about the people and resources you can integrate into your caregiving team.
Being Your Parents’ Healthcare Advocate – How to Get Started