There's little doubt that physical distance adds another layer of complexity to caregiving. When you are suddenly faced with a caregiving crisis and are unable to simply run down the street to handle it, taking care of a loved one can get a little bit harder.
If you are a long distance caregiver, take heart. In my years as a Care Advocate working with families, I've found a few basic rules hold true if you want to prepare yourself.
Gather information BEFORE the crisis. This includes contact information for your loved one's doctors, medications, medical history, local pharmacy and other support services.
Create a "Care Notebook." Keep important information in one place that you can take with you. Include paperwork from doctors, Care Advocates, service providers, and so on. Be sure to include community services that might be appropriate, such as Meals on Wheels and the Area Agencies on Aging.
Review care needs. A proper care assessment will evaluate your loved one in two important areas: Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). In general, ADLs refer to daily self-care activities, such as bathing, dressing and eating. IADLs are an indication of how well an individual's environment is maintained, such as managing money, shopping, preparing meals and housekeeping.
Recruit a Care Team. This includes family members, friends, geriatric care manager, social worker or nurse, and others who can provide help and advice in finding and providing long-term care. Don't forget to have your loved one compose and sign advance directives, such as a health care proxy and durable power of attorney, and other release forms that are required if you want to speak with their doctor and in some instances make decisions on their behalf. Also, remember to keep copies of all these documents.
Hold a family/team meeting. You can do it by phone or in-person, but be sure to hold a family meeting well in advance of your loved one's care issues.
Paying for care. Many people are surprised to learn that very few long-term care services are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. The alternative is to pay for long-term care from other sources, such as out of pocket. Be sure to explore your options for paying for care before a care situation arises.
Take care of yourself. Don't forget it is okay to ask for help. Join a support group for caregivers, and remember to set aside quality time to enjoy time together.