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" (Impact Publishers, $9.95).
No. 1: Get
Keep track of important information in a care log.
No. 2: Identify your informal
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.
No. 3: Investigate travel
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.
No. 4: Discuss legal and financial
These topics may be difficult to talk about, but they help ensure that the older person maintains decision-making authority even when incapacitated. Pre-planning will also lessen family disagreements and protect family resources.
No. 6: Tap into the aging
Contact the local department on aging in your relative's community. This agency can help you identify helpful services. Use the National Eldercare Locator Service at (800) 677-1116 to find local aging agencies.
No. 7: Develop a plan of
If possible, bring the family together for a meeting. Decide with the older person what the primary needs are, who can provide assistance and what community resources would help. Summarize your agreement in writing. Keep in mind that family difficulties are typical. You may need to bring in a family therapist or social worker to help.
No. 8: Adjust your plan of care when
Be aware that your care plan may need to be altered. The older person's needs may change, and helpers will come and go. Use your care log to deal with changes.
No. 9: Explore relocation
Primary questions are when, who and where.