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Long-distance caregivers, you can help more than you think

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Long-distance caregiving is less hands on, but more options are available to show you care

If you don’t live near your aging parents, an older relative, or a family friend, it can be difficult to help them with day-to-day activities. But whether you’re several or hundreds of miles away, you can still take on some long-distance caregiving responsibilities to show you care.

What is long-distance caregiving?

John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network, says a long-distance caregiver can be anyone — regardless of gender, income, age, social status, or employment — who lives an hour or more away from a person who needs care. And more and more, people are finding themselves in this situation.

“This is a result of more and more elderly persons wanting to ‘age in place’ in their homes while their grown children live elsewhere,” Schall said.

What can long-distance caregivers do from afar?

Even if you live in New York and your senior parent lives in California, you can make a big difference in their life and let them know they’re well loved. The quality of long-distance caregiving you provide is more important than the number of hours.

You can help by planning for emergencies, managing money, arranging for in-home care, and providing respite care for the primary caregiver when they need a break. You can also give emotional support to your siblings who live nearby who are taking on day-to-day duties.

How to work with a local caregiver

Schall says the long-distance caregiver’s role is less “hands on” and more focused on gathering information and resources and serving as a communication hub. Each family is different, so he suggests holding a family meeting early on to discuss how family members can support each other.

Here are some ideas on how you can provide long-distance caregiving:

  • Help with paperwork, finances, and money management.
  • Do the research to arrange for hiring professional in-home care.
  • Make phone calls to help locate assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
  • Be the information coordinator on medicines, doctors, and insurance.
  • Provide a listening ear for your siblings, friends, and primary caregivers.
  • Update family and friends through emails or social media posts.
  • Develop an emergency plan and get paperwork in order.

Financial planning for health care

According to Schall, caregiving costs about $10,000 a year out of pocket, so he says local and long-distance caregivers need to work together to prevent the costs from piling up on one person. If you’re traveling back and forth, budget for your mileage, gas, and vehicle maintenance or keep track of your bus, train, or airline trips and costs.

You could purchase Short-term Care insurance for your loved one to help fill health care coverage gaps and pay for home health care. Hospital Indemnity insurance also helps cover costs that other insurance plans — including Medicare — don’t cover.

Additional tips for long-distance caregivers

When you’re able to visit, you don’t have to focus on caregiving the entire time. Don’t feel bad about pursuing your own activities, like catching up with old friends, during downtime. It’s important to care for yourself.

Even though you’re in overdrive taking care of an elderly parent or friend, you need to keep your own health in check. If you think you need emotional assistance, consider joining a caregiver online support group.

Lastly, try to communicate as best as possible with your siblings and the primary or local caregiver so they know how you’re feeling and when you need help, too.  

“Let your siblings know what you're prepared to do and accept their points of view and their assessment of how involved they can be,” Schall said. Most of all, he adds, be open, honest, and forgiving, and try to be flexible so you’re willing to accept compromise.

Photo credit: iStock

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