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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving

If your mother 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.

Get organized
Keep track of important information in a care log.

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Identify your informal network
Ask for help from people in the older person's community, such as relatives, neighbors, longtime family friends, and members of religious, civic, and social organizations. Ask them to call you collect if they spot a problem.

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. Purchase airline tickets seven days in advance and stay over a Saturday night.

Discuss legal and financial issues
These topics may be difficult to talk about, but they help ensure that the older person maintains decision-making authority even when incapacitated. Preplanning will also lessen family disagreements and protect family resources.

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

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. 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 safe -- make duplicate copies.

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