Getting Started As A Long-Distance Caregiver
You live more than an hour or two away from your parents. You don't see them every day. If something were to happen, you couldn't get there right away. You're a long-distance caregiver (or someday you will be).
When you're a long distance caregiver, as much as you might like to you can't be there all the time. You need a team you can trust to be your eyes, ears, and hands. What this means is that you would be smart to start thinking about scouting and recruiting your own long distance caregiver team now.
If you're lucky enough to have the luxury of time, you can take some steps to analyze your parents' needs and put your eldercare team on stand-by reserve in a deliberate fashion. If an emergency is staring you in the face, then you'll have to "punt" by pulling together what you can as quickly as you can, and then re-evaluate and re-position later.
I don't need to tell you that you reduce your options by waiting until after an emergency. Your eldercare team could be a Super Bowl/World Series winner, or - if you wait too long - it could be a minor league dropout.
How do you go about putting together an award-winning eldercare team?
Information, information, and information, in that order, is the best way to begin.
Read as much as you can on this website. Educate yourself on how to make a clear-eyed assessment, where to start looking for resources, how Medicare and Medicaid work.
Explore the site, download the tools, subscribe to the weekly tips, and take notes. Start a notebook so you have everything in one place.
Find out as much as you can about your parents. Not just their needs as you see it, but what they would want, and what they have already decided.
Let it be said right now, though, that whatever you read or hear about talking to aging parents is going to be more than a little bit idealistic.
"The Talk" rarely goes as smoothly as we want, and we rarely get all the information we need. So don't feel guilty that you're not as successful as you think you should be. We hardly ever are.
In crisis mode or in planning mode, once you've gathered all the information you can, you have some idea of where your parents stand and what they might need. You might even have some idea of what could be coming at you down the road.
Now it's time to start putting together your team. This won't happen overnight, but the sooner you get a start the better.
So, what positions do you need to fill on your Elder Care Team?
Player #1: Your local eyes and ears person. Someone you can trust to keep a key, check in now and then, and call you right away if there's a concern. If you're in luck, your parents already have one or more friends who fill this position. Find out who they are. Put all their telephone numbers and addresses in your notebook. Send them chocolate for the holidays.
Player #2: Home Help. Someone who is ready to come into the home and provide housekeeping, personal care, meals, transportation, and any other non- medical help your parents might need. Even if you (and they) don't think they need this kind of help now, a good eldercare team plan has one or two homecare agencies in reserve. In an emergency, you'll already have telephone numbers, information about what local agencies can and can't do, and costs. Call them now and find out how responsive they are. Make notes about the good, the bad, and the so-so. This information can be solid gold in a crunch.
It's also a good idea to have the name and contact information for someone who will do lawn and yard maintenance, snow removal, small handyman chores that can't wait until you visit, and a transportation service. These services don't have to be senior-specific, just available.
Player #3: The doctor(s). Know who they are and what body part they specialize in. Have telephone, fax, email, and any other contact numbers readily available in your team book. If at all possible, meet at least the primary care physician and establish a relationship. The doctor will be your key team member in the event of a medical problem. Know him or her now and you won't have the potential communication problems you could have if he or she has never heard of you. If you want the doctor to play on your team, he'll have to have a signed medical release of information or power of attorney form on file. If you don't have these, the doctor is forbidden by law from giving you anyone's private health information. If you don't have a release from your parent you can still give information you think is important to the doctor.
Player #4: The attorney. An attorney is a vital part of the team because there are legal hurdles to be jumped in elder care. The attorney can help you and your parents get your legal house in order so you, and they, can do whatever needs to be done in the future. Ignore this team member at your peril. Wait too long, and it will be too late. You'll revisit this team member every few years to make sure that documents still conform to the legal rules (they're always changing) and that nothing new needs to be added. Your attorney will always be waiting on the bench to pinch hit if needed.
Player #5: The CFP (certified financial planner), CPA, trust officer, or other financial advisor. Let's face it: eldercare is expensive. You have to know what resources you have to work with before you can put your playbook together. If there is no financial advisor, should there be? Unless you know that your parents have few or no assets, and you're not planning on using your own money, there probably should be. If you do plan to use some of your own funds, then you probably urgently need the advice of a financial professional.
Player #6: Residential Facilities. These are more "things" than people, but you need to know what's available locally just in case. So, check out two or more assisted living and nursing facilities. Know where they are, what they're licensed to do, what they cost, what special extras (like day care and respite care) they might offer, and what hoops you might have to jump through to get in. For instance, many assisted living residences require that a prospective resident have a current TB test. Better to know ahead of time.
Player #7: A Geriatric Care Manager. A GCM can help you locate all of these things in minutes instead of hours or days. What you pay a care manager is often less than what it would cost to take time from work and to make several fact-finding trips. They can be a priceless resource if there is an emergency. A local GCM can step in and help manage a crisis until you get there.
Player #8: You. As manager of the team you don't always have to be on the field for team members to do what they do best. If you have a great team, you can relax just a little. Without a great team, you'll have to pitch, bat and field all by yourself - at the same time you're trying to collect tickets, sell peanuts and park cars. Over time you're sure to lose your sanity, your health and the game.