long distance caregiving

This novel coronavirus pandemic makes it seem that even those of us who live close to our elderly relations are far away. Here are some tips to help with caregiving no matter the physical distance or presence of a pandemic.

Try to stay in frequent touch with your loved one using the technology they have available. Plan to speak or video chat via Zoom as often as you can. While we are all at home, having a plan to video conference is something pleasant to look forward to. Video chats enable you to see your loved one and pick up on subtle changes that you might miss on a traditional phone call. You may notice something out of character, for example, that they seem unkempt. It would prompt you to ask questions regarding their ability to shower and may give insight to their emotional state and ability to cope. If this technology is unavailable, consider who could check in on your loved one in person. This visitor, who should be using personal protective equipment and observe social distancing, should pay attention to subtle clues that may indicate changes in your loved one’s coping abilities.

If you observe changes that concern you, you may want to speak to the primary care physician or other professional such as a lawyer or financial planner. To do so, your loved one would need to give written permission. Make sure that all legal paperwork is up-to-date and easy to access. This would include durable power of attorney and health care proxy forms so that you are able to step in to make legal and/or medical decisions if needed. You should have access to and be aware of your loved one’s financial matters including bank accounts, wills, long-term care insurance, life insurance and insurance cards. Most important is to know their end of life wishes, and if these wishes have changed during this pandemic.

Make a contact list of physicians including a list of medications, both over the counter and prescription medicine. There should be at least a two-week supply of medications in the house.

Keep your relatives safe from the pandemic by decreasing their exposure. Can you arrange to get their groceries and medications delivered? Can a neighbor shop for them? Are there enough cleaning products in the home? Have you reviewed good handwashing techniques with them? Do they understand social distancing guidelines? Your loved ones should not allow anyone with flu-like symptoms in their home.

Be aware of your relatives’ informal caregivers, such as neighbors, the mailman or friends from church or synagogue, and have their contact information should you be unable to get in touch with your loved one.

Aging Life Care Professionals, or Geriatric Care Managers, are knowledgeable and experienced in helping the elderly age well. A professional who lives near your loved one is uniquely suited to put an individual plan of care in place and can intervene directly when concerns need to be addressed in a timely fashion. Most care managers are certified in their primary field, usually nursing or social work, and adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. To learn more about geriatric care management, or to find a care manager near your loved one, go to the website www.aginglifecare.org

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