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10 Tips for Long-Distance Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving

If your mother has Alzheimer's disease and lives in Phoenix and you're in New York, how do you help take care of her? Angela Heath, director of the Eldercare Locator Hotline of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, has compiled 10 strategies to help you cope. This article is adapted from Heath's book, Long-Distance Caregiving: A Survival Guide for Far Away Caregivers.

Tip No. 1: Get organized
Keep track of important information in a care log.

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Tip No. 2: Identify an informal network
Ask for help from people in your loved one's community, such as relatives, neighbors, longtime family friends, and members of religious, civic, and social organizations. Ask them to contact you if they spot a problem with your loved one. 

Also, consider installing a webcam in your loved one's home as a way to check up on them and see how they are doing. Also equip your loved one with an emergency necklace or bracelet that allows them to alert the police or paramedics with the push of a button should they need help.

Tip No. 3: Investigate travel alternatives
Be prepared to "care commute." Investigate travel options in advance. Keep your car in good repair, and check on the route and weather before traveling.

If you rent a car, look for the best rates. Don't pay for insurance if you already carry full coverage or your credit card company offers coverage. You may get a discount when buying bus or train tickets if you disclose that it's an emergency. Learn how to buy airline tickets in a way that ensures you get the best deal.

Tip No. 4: Discuss legal and financial issues
These topics may be difficult to talk about, but they help ensure that your loved one maintains decision-making authority even when incapacitated. Preplanning will also lessen family disagreements and protect family resources.

  • Will: Your loved one decides how to dispose of assets after death.
  • Power of attorney: Gives a caregiver the authority to act on behalf of your loved one.
  • Trust: Estate-planning document allows your loved one to transfer assets and avoid probate and other legal problems.
  • Joint ownership: Makes it easier to gain access to your loved one's finances.
  • Representative payee: A caregiver receives government checks for the loved one unable to manage money.
  • Medigap insurance: Pays portion of medical bills not covered by Medicare.

Tip No. 5: Take care of necessary paperwork
Find all legal, financial, and insurance documents, including birth certificates, social security cards, marriage or divorce decrees, wills, and power of attorney documents. Identify bank accounts, titles, sources of income and obligations, and auto, life, homeowner's, and medical insurance papers. Review these documents for accuracy and update them if necessary. Store documents in a secure place such as a safe-deposit box or a fireproof box. Be cautious -- make duplicate copies.

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