Once you have assessed what tasks your older relative can handle independently -- and any areas where they might need help -- begin collecting information that you will need to deal with emergencies and to contact local folks. You should also collect any information you can use to assist your relative with finances, or to keep abreast of their medical care.
- Contacts. Get contact information for neighbors, clergy, friends, or others who will have regular contact with your loved one, or who can help out in an emergency.
- Medical information. Even if your aging relative is capable of handling his own medical care, get detailed medical information in case of an emergency. This includes doctors' names and telephone numbers, medical insurance information, medications (you'll have to keep current on these as prescriptions can change often with elderly patients), and other important medical information.
- Financial information. At a bare minimum, know where your relative keeps their financial documents. If they need help managing money, you'll have to dig deeper -- getting information about all sources of income, checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, monthly bills, expenses, and the like. Get contact information for accountants, tax preparers, and other people who have information about your relative's finances. To learn more about helping your aging loved one with financial matters, see Nolo's article Helping Elders Manage Money & Finances.
- Legal documents. Get copies and know where your relative stores the originals of important legal documents -- such as a will, deed to the house, or advance healthcare directive. Get contact information for your relative's lawyer, if they have one. (To learn more about what legal documents your parent or elderly relative should have, see Nolo's article Caring for an Elderly Relative: Where to Begin.)
Scope Out Local Agencies & Services
Once you've determined what additional help your elderly relative may need, find out what agencies and services are available. You can do much of this research using the Internet and telephone. The local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) will have a wealth of information about elder services in your relative's area. You can find the AAA nearest to your loved one by visiting the federal government's Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov.
Some ideas to think about when looking for local services:
Meals-on-Wheels. If your relative has trouble preparing meals, or just needs a break from daily cooking, contact the local Meals-on-Wheels program. Almost every area has this service, through which volunteers deliver hot, nutritious meals during the weekdays.
Senior centers. Senior centers often provide meals, along with social interaction and planned activities.
Elder transportation. If needed, look into bus schedules and special senior transport services to help your loved one get out of the house if they can no longer drive.
Get Help From Others
The most important part of caregiving from afar is establishing a network of local friends, family, and other people who can check in on your loved one, act as a trusted "observer," or be of assistance in an emergency.
- Find out if there are any neighbors or younger friends who would be willing to check in with your relative on a regular basis.
- Consider employing a high school student or other person to run errands for your relative, check up on them, or perform chores like mowing the lawn or watering plants.
- Schedule occasional calls with doctors so you can keep abreast of your relative's medical care and needs. (Have your relative sign a release that will allow doctors to talk with you about all aspects of your relative's health and treatment.)
- Consider hiring a geriatric care manager. These professionals (usually licensed nurses or social workers who specialize in elder care) can evaluate your loved one's situation and recommend and coordinate necessary care. Before hiring one, check credentials, get references, and take other precautions to ensure that the person you hire is competent. Contact the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at www.caremanager.org for referrals and information about screening candidates.
Check In Regularly
It goes without saying that regular telephone contact is important when you are a long-distance caregiver. But it's also important to schedule occasional visits. These are opportunities to observe how things are going, attend a doctor's appointment, or visit the senior center or classes that your older relative frequents. Of course, your visits should not be all business. Take time to enjoy your relative's company, treat them to a nice meal, or engage in some activity that they enjoy or cannot do alone.
For more tips on managing the care of your elder relative, you may find it helpful to consult the following Nolo resources: Long-Term Care, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo), and Social Security, Medicare, and Government Pensions, by Joseph L. Matthews and Dorothy Matthews Berman (Nolo).
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