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Tips and Resources for Long-Distance Caregivers
published Nov 28, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior,
What kinds of help are available to long-distance caregivers? My mother has gotten very forgetful in her old age and has fallen a few times over the past year, but is determined to stay living in her own house. How can I help her from 700 miles away?
Worried Daughter
 
Dear Worried,
In today’s mobile society, caring for an elderly parent from afar has become increasingly common. In fact, the National Institute of Health estimates that there are around 7 million Americans who are long-distance caregivers today. Here are some tips and resources that can help you.
 
Weigh Your Options
When it comes to monitoring and caring of an aging parent that lives far away, you have a couple options. You can hire a professional to oversee your parent. Or you can coordinate the care yourself by assembling a network of neighbors, friends, medical specialist, drivers, housekeepers and other helpers. 
 
In either case, you may want to start by having your mom get a geriatric assessment. This is a professional evaluation to identify her needs and a suggested plan to manage her care. To find a professional who does this, contact your mom’s doctor or visit the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers website at caremanager.org.
 
Once you get an assessment you’ll need to decide how to proceed. If you decide to hire a geriatric care manager he or she can set up and manage all aspects of care, and monitor your mom’s ongoing needs. And if her health deteriorates they can determine if assisted living or a nursing home is the best option and find a suitable facility. Care managers charge hourly rates for these services ranging between $75 and $150 per hour, and it’s not covered by Medicare.
 
Do It Yourself
If, however, you don’t want or can’t afford to use a care manager, here are some things you can do yourself to help you manage her care.
  • Assemble a care team: Put together a network of people (nearby friends or family, neighbors, clergy, mail carrier, etc.) who can check in on your mom regularly. And be sure they have your contact information so they can call you if need be.
  • Find local resources: Most communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that provide seniors with basic needs such as home delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and more. To find out what’s available, contact the Area Agency on Aging in your mom’s community. Call 800-677-1116 for contact information.
  • Get a handle on finances: If your mom needs help with her financial chores, arrange for direct deposit of her Social Security and other pension checks (see godirect.org), and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills. Or, consider hiring a professional daily money manager (they charge between $25 and $100 per hour) who can do it for her. See aadmm.comor call 877-326-5991 to locate one.
  • Use technology: For about $1 a day, rent your mom a personal emergency response system. This is a small pendent-style “SOS” button that she wears that would allow her to call for help if she fell. These are available through companies like lifelinesys.com and lifealert.com. Or, check out home monitoring systems at grandcare.com or closebynetwork.com.
  • Hire home help: Depending on her needs, you may need to hire a home-care provider that can help with homemaking chores, personal care or medical issues. Costs vary from around $12 to $30 per hour. To find home-care assistance, call your mom’s doctor’s office, the discharge planner at her local hospital or see medicare.gov/hhcompare.
  • Seek financial assistance: Visit benefitscheckup.org to look for programs that may help your mom pay for drugs, health care, utilities and other expenses.
 
Savvy tip: Call the National Institute on Aging at 800-222-2225 and order their free booklet “So Far Away: Twenty Questions for Long-Distance Caregivers.”
 

Savvy Senior is written by Jim Miller. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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