Keep track of your loved one’s health for peace of mind.
According to a study conducted by the AARP, 15% of the nearly 34 million Americans who provide care to a loved one are caregiving from a distance of at least one hour or more. Caring for a loved one can be complicated as it is, but when you add distance into the mix, it can have an even greater effect on career, savings, and a caregiver’s emotional wellbeing. What works for one caregiver may not work for another, and with many progressive diseases or conditions, a caregiver’s role will change as the disease progresses, so the landscape is ever shifting. Beyond providing hands-on care, there are many boxes that need to be checked in order to keep track of your loved one’s health from a distance.
Keep in touch through technology
Of course, the type of care provided depends on an individual’s health, so it pays to keep on top of any health changes. If you’re too far to visit more than a few times a year then try to call, email, or Skype as often as possible. With certain debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s, writing an email or holding a telephone may be too difficult, so Skype is a great alternative to check in. It serves two purposes: first it lets them know you’re there even if you’re physically far away, and second, it lets you see any health changes or declines as if you were actually there. If Skype is not an option, enlist the help of a nearby friend or neighbor and ask them if they notice any changes.
The right to medical information
Hand in hand with this, is communicating effectively with your loved one’s doctors. First, you will need to get written permission to receive medical and financial information as necessary under the HIPAA privacy guidelines. Written permission is as easy as calling the doctor’s office, asking for a consent form, and having your loved one sign off. Once you have your loved one’s consent, you will be able to talk to their healthcare providers which will help you not only monitor their health but anticipate the future of their health as well.
Beyond monitoring health, as long-distance caregiver you can get help navigating the complicated terrain of long-term care benefits. Programs can vary state by state, so follow the link to see what’s available in your locale. There is also the Veteran’s Affairs office for veterans and many Area Agencies on Aging in each state which can help you find options that might otherwise be overlooked. An Area Agency on Aging can answer many questions and help organize help if you don’t know where to start and you feel your loved one needs more care than they are receiving.
If no family members live nearby or there is no one in the family to take on everyday-caregiving duties, your loved one may need professional assistance if they start losing their ability to perform activities of daily living. If you do decide to hire professional care, keep your loved one’s health records on-hand and well organized. This should include doctors’ names/phone numbers, medications, and doctor’s visits (both past and future).
Have an advanced health directive ready in case of an emergency. If possible, try to schedule doctor’s appointments when you are in town in order to let the doctor know what you are seeing or hearing from caregivers. This can help the diagnostic process enormously since you will be advocating directly for your loved one’s health.
If the need for hiring a professional caregiver has not yet arisen, it could still be helpful to be aware of local care managers. Aging Life Care Specialists, previously known as geriatric care managers, are professionals who focus on assessing a senior’s needs and then organizing the necessary care. This could include housekeeping, meals on wheels, home-health services, and more. Some care managers are paid privately while others work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Your local Area Agency on Aging will be able to direct you towards a reputable care manager.
Local support networks
Outside of health care professionals, don’t forget about the network of people in your aging relative’s immediate circle. If they have people in their lives that are in regular contact with them then it is imperative to keep in contact with those people too. Nearby friends, clergymen, housekeepers, and neighbors are all good to talk to for keeping tracking of physical health changes. Also, depending on the relationship, you may be able to count on them to help in varying capacities. Maybe this means inviting your loved one over for dinner once a week or helping with doctor’s visits or pharmacy pickups if your loved one can no longer drive. Whatever the case may be, all help is immensely valuable and don’t be afraid to ask.
Lastly, remember to take care of you. Things can get stressful very quickly! Separate from directly overseeing or providing care, it’s important that you find the time to take the necessary steps towards self-care. This could mean a coordinated effort with your family members to lay down a solid plan for everyone’s obligations. If you don’t have the support of siblings, it could mean finding a support group for caregivers. There are many online and real-life communities devoted to almost every condition which can provide great tips, advice, and a place to vent. If ever anything feels like too much, it’s always helpful to remember that there are others going through the same thing.
Written by Max Gottlieb of Senior Planning. Senior Planning is a one-stop shop for senior resources, health resources, and care resources.
A note from Deb
If your senior is technology challenged, Sociavi may be the solution. Designed as a picture frame, unlimited family and friends can send photos and video directly to Sociavi without your senior needing any technical knowledge. The app for sending files works on both iPhone and Android. In addition, there is a medication reminder and video chat available all without your senior needing to do anything.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.