Seven Lifesavers for Long-Distance Caregivers

…and the Family Telephone
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By Sheri Samotin

(Editor’s Note: On a regular basis, we invite health care professionals and family caregivers to share insights as a guest blogger on Caregiving.com. As we launch our online support group for long-distance family caregivers, we asked Sheri Samotin, a family transition coach, to share her top tips to help long-distance family caregivers. You can listen to Shari and Denise discuss these tips on Your Caregiving Journey; the player follows the post.)

1. Get yourself organized. One of the hardest parts of long-distance caregiving is keeping all of the balls in the air. The more organized you are, the less stressed you are. Checklists and calendars are a great help, and there are many wonderful tools available to facilitate communication between you and your care recipient, as well as between your caregiving resources, and among those who need to know within your family.

2. Get your care recipient organized. Everyone should take the time to put their affairs in order, but this is especially true in the case of long-distance caregiving. It is critical that you have all of the information that you need to handle your care recipient’s affairs at your fingertips, and that you have the appropriate permissions in place to tackle issues as they arise. This goes beyond having a Power of Attorney, and includes a complete reference of assets and liabilities, passwords, household inventory, listing of service providers, details regarding final wishes, and on and on.  Establishing a family transition plan is the best way to make sure that you are prepared.

3. Plan ahead. Think about what will happen in an emergency. Who will be your care recipient’s advocate if she falls and has to be taken to the emergency room? How quickly can you (or another family member) arrive on the scene? If your care recipient lives in an area with blizzards, hurricanes, brushfires, or earthquakes, what is the emergency plan? How will you remain informed? Does your care recipient know what to do and who to call?

4. Understand that it’s all about control. Caregiving is all about control. As the caregiver, you want to control everything so that “nothing bad” happens. Your care recipient wants to remain in control so that he or she continues to feel like a complete person. If you can remember that control is at the core of every action and every reaction, it will help you keep things in perspective. When you become frustrated, ask yourself why you are trying to control the situation, what will happen if you stop, and why YOU feel out of control.

5. Ask for help.  And then, ask again. There are so many wonderful people and resources available to help you. Don’t feel like you are less of a caregiver when you accept help. Be specific about what you need. It’s much easier for someone to respond to your request to bring Dad dinner one night a week then to respond to the vague request to “keep an eye on Dad.”

6. Take care of yourself. You are no good to anyone if you get sick, so take the time to take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest.

7.  Engage a professional, such as a coach or geriatric care manager. While it might seem expensive, engaging a professional to help you may be a wise investment. A coach or geriatric care manager can assist you in putting all of the pieces in place early, ideally even before your aging relative’s health has deteriorated. This professional can help you select your caregiving team so that you know exactly who to call when the time comes. As a neutral third party, your coach or care manager can help navigate the family dynamics that often are heightened during times of transition.

We’d love to know: What tips would you add?

(Sheri Samotin is a family transition coach and President of LifeBridge Solutions which offers daily money management, insurance claims advocacy, household transition services and estate administration support. Sheri brings more than 25 years of business and management experience to her work.)

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