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Long Distance Caregiving

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Helping From Far Away
By Kate Shuman
(Page 1 of 3)

Because Americans have become such a transient culture, adult children are now finding themselves having to deal with an ever-growing crisis: taking on the new-found role as long-distance caregiver. A recent study on long-distance caregiving showed that the out-of-pocket expense of caring for an elderly or physically challenged loved one who lives more than an hour away has doubled since 1997. It is estimated that long-distance caregivers spend about $392 a month on phone calls, travel expenses, medicine, medical supplies, meals, and home maintenance, as well as other necessities, compared with monthly expenditures of about $196 seven years ago. Presently, long-distance caregiver’s yearly expenses are more than $4,700, which is roughly the same amount of money needed for a year of community college education. Along with the financial costs, there’s also the cost of time. About 80% of all long-distance caregivers are employed, and of this, at least 44% of them have had to rearrange their work schedules, with the other 36% of them having to miss an average of 20 hours of work each month in order to conduct caregiving duties. These costs may even be higher among those long-distance caregivers who worry about people in rural areas, where it is not so easy to have a community agency check-up on them. How do you not only juggle the caregiving duties of a long-distance nature, but how can you be sure that relatives in rural areas are getting the care that they need? In this case, you’re not only dealing with distance, but you’re also dealing with isolation.

When caring from a distance for a person who lives in a rural area, you must first realize that certain services in these communities will not be as abundant as those in metropolitan areas, due to a much smaller population. However, living in a rural setting can actually have an advantage -  the closeness which exists among the people in these communities is genuine and strong - this can be a very valuable resource. When you visit your loved one in their rural setting, it’s important for you to get to know their neighbors and friends. By engaging with this community, you’ll also be able to make sure that your loved one won’t be isolated when you are unable to be there. Attend as many community events with your loved one as you can, such as fairs or church functions. Check with local churches, community centers, and local service clubs in order to learn about volunteer and support services which may benefit your situation.

Getting a case manager can also help decrease the pressure that’s on you, since they can work with services available in your loved one’s area, like personal support, nursing services that can come to their home, delivery of meals, in-home foot care (important for those with diabetes), as well as help with personal hygiene. When you return to your own home, be sure and stay in touch with the friends and neighbors you’ve met.  Talking to them will make you feel less guilty about not being there, and also less afraid for your loved one’s well-being.

Suggestions regarding other things you can do to be proactive in the care of your loved one, even from a distance include:

Investigate the options for a personal emergency response system for your loved one’s home.  This will allow 24 hour assistance for your loved one in the event of an emergency; it may be a good idea to leave a key to your loved one’s home with a friend or neighbor so that they have quick and easy access to your loved one in case of an emergency; when you’re back on a visit, plan to meet with the care providers involved, and have them bring you up-to-date with your loved one’s progress; create a “communication book” where care providers can make note of concerns or questions for you, then you’ll have the ability to follow-up on a weekly basis; prioritize the tasks that you want to accomplish with each visit; in order to stay focused and less confused on visits, keep a list of people you’ll need to speak with; and make sure that care providers know where and how to reach you, where ever you may be. Here are some other helpful tips:

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