Tips for Long Distance Caregivers

The past five years I’ve helped my sisters care for my mom and dad. Living 125 miles away from my parents required planning no matter how long the stay. This was a challenge for both my employer and residence. Although, I don’t have young children who depend on me, I do have a house, plants, yard and a dear cat, all of which needs attention. There are times that I went for consecutive days and other trips my stay shortened to one. Depending upon the help required and if my mom was in the hospital. Either way, it took planning and effort on my part.

Be Organized

Always carry a journal with you listing the elder’s medications, important phone numbers for doctors, pharmacist, the elder’s neighbors, church and important members there, hospital, ambulance service, police and fire station, long-time family friends, civic and social community. Give them your contact information (phone, cell, email and home address) and ask they call you if they spot a problem, potential issue or if they have a question).

  • Build a network with the above community. It’s your lifeline when apart from the elder.
  • Stay connected with them on a regular basis. This gives a message that you’re on top of things even though you are at a distance.

Legal and Financial Issues

These topics can be difficult to bring up with the elder but they help ensure your elder maintains decision-making authority even if they become incapacitated. Planning will also lessen family disagreements and protect family resources.

  • Will – the elder decides how to disperse assets after death
  • Power of attorney – gives a caregiver the authority to act on behalf of the older person
  • Trust: estate-planning document allows the elder to transfer assets and avoid probate and other legal problems
  • Joint ownership: makes it easier to gain access to the elder’s finances
  • Representative payee: A caregiver receives government checks for an older person unable to manage money
  • Medigap insurance: pays portion of medical bills not covered by Medicare

Get Organized

A few days before departure, talk with select neighbors to let them know your travel plans. On a sheet of paper list:

  • Your cell phone number, parent’s home number, and list calendar dates the house would be vacant
  • The house had automatic on and off light switch adaptors and listed the times they were set to turn on and for how long
  • The cat’s feeding was either sourced to a pet service, the neighbor looking out for things, or she made the trip with me in the car depending of the length of stay. The longer the timeframe, the cat came with me on the visit. My mom and dad got a kick out of the cat riding in the car. As most people on the highway since the cat sat in the rear window area looking out! She’d get honks from eighteen-wheelers and lots of smiles and waves from everyone. This was our most enjoyable drive knowing that we made people smile!
  • The house had a security alarm, so I’d inform the alarm company of my absence and timeframe
  • Call the postal mail and newspaper to hold or cancel delivery
  • Let important people in your life know that you’ll be out of town. Usually, this was done via email
  • If traveling by car, be sure to check the oil, gas level and tire air capacity – check on the weather and route before traveling
  • If renting a car, check on available rates, mileage per day, and return times (some car rental companies charge an extra day even if you return the rental car an hour later than designated rental times
  • If traveling by air, it’s better to plan ahead since most airlines offer 21, 14 or 7 seven-day advance reservation discounts. Although some airlines, 24 hours prior to departure offer low fares just to fill up the plane. I’d confirm with the airlines a couple of months before booking a flight and make sure they participate in such deals – stay over a Saturday night when traveling by air

While away from your home

Check with the responsible neighbor every other day to assure the home front is safe and in order.

Making the Return Trip

Checking with mom and dad before leaving on items such as bills that needed paying, grocery shopping, cooking, and making sure the house was clean and clothes were washed. This helped mom when I wasn’t there. She really hated cooking (in her last year because of low energy) but my dad was spoiled (by my mom), so I made sure he didn’t go hungry.

Medications are a big concern with an elder- you want to make sure the medicine cabinet is organized and the elder understands once again the procedure and application of all medications.

If an errand must be run in your absence, arrange for transportation. Contact the elder’s neighbors and let them know your departure and date of your next trip.