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.
Sound Body, Sound Mind
When caring for an older adult, it's important not to overlook routine care -- stuff that seems obvious but that may not be on your radar. Here is a rundown of what to keep in mind.
Everyone needs regular checkups. But some older adults (and young ones, too) reason that since they just saw the doctor last month about that sinus problem, they don't need to go again. A visit to the doctor for a specific problem, however, doesn't take the place of a complete checkup.
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.
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.