6 Very important things you can do as a long-distance caregiver


These are a few essential things that long-distance caregivers can do, so roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Organize paperwork

Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Like having a desk job in a police department. Notwithstanding that, organizing and updating a large amount of information can be extremely helpful; if it’s hard for a person in their prime to put together their own personal information, just imagine the challenge this could present to an aging parent who needs care. Such information may include the following:

  • Full legal name and residence.
  • Birth date and place, birth certificate.
  • Social Security and Medicare numbers.
  • Employer(s) and dates of employment.
  • Education and military records.
  • Sources of income and assets; investment income.
  • Insurance policies, bank accounts, deeds, investments, and other valuables.
  • Most recent income tax return.
  • Money owed, to whom, and when payments are due.
  • Credit card account names and numbers.
  • Safe deposit box key and information.
  • Will, beneficiary information.
  • Durable power of attorney.
  • Living will and/or durable power of attorney for healthcare.
  • Where cash or other valuables might be kept in the home.

That’s just to start; you will surely find more items to add as you go along. The hardest part, though, may be to get your parent to give you access to their personal, health, financial, and legal information. You must explain to them that you don’t mean to pry, nor is it your intention to run their lives. Your purpose is simply to compile information that might be necessary in case of an emergency. Make sure they know and believe their privacy will be respected – don’t just say it, mean it. Another hurdle is that you have to gather all these data from a distance. Time management is of the essence if you don’t get to see your aged P. frequently, so get the most important facts first and sort the rest out along the way. Talk to your parent and their primary caregiver – if there is one – to determine which info may have already been gathered, which has yet to be complied, and which may have gone missing. If your parent is not comfortable with this arrangement, suggest an elder law attorney or nominate a close friend or another member of the family.

Discuss about healthcare preferences

Discussing the type of medical care your parents would want should they fall ill to the point that they can’t make their own decisions is something that should take place sooner than later – even if they are still in relatively good health. As a long-distance caregiver, however, you may want to wait till you get some face time with your parents instead of relying on phone calls. After all, this is a delicate issue for all parts, especially your parents. You could bring it up by mentioning that you have made a living will, or that you have picked someone to make your healthcare decisions for you. Other conversation starters may be movies, TV shows, magazine articles, etc. Once you break the ice, assuage your parents that, one way or another, they will be calling the shots. There are several ways to make sure their wishes are respected even if they are no longer in possession of their faculties, such as:

Advance care planning

This is done by means of an advance directive; verbal and written instructions regarding future medical care. Two types of advance directives are available:

Living will

Durable power of attorney

Sets in writing the types of life-sustaining medical treatments a person may or may not want if they are not able to talk or respond and are at risk of dying.

A DPA for healthcare appoints a healthcare proxy to make decisions similar to those outlined in a living will based on what the patient would want.


A healthcare proxy, also known as healthcare agent or surrogate, doesn’t have to live close to the patient. Therefore you, as a long-distance caregiver, could be tapped for this tremendous responsibility. Regardless of who is chosen, this individual – be they a close friend or relative, priest, rabbi, or lawyer – must understand the choices, know the patient’s values, support their decisions, and respect their wishes. May your parents choose a healthcare proxy more wisely than Kafka chose his literary executor.

 Your parents can revisit their advance directives and modify them as they see fit. Healthcare providers should be informed of any changes. Save a copy of advance directives at home, and give other copies to your siblings if need be. More importantly, make sure your parents’ preferences and choices are included in their medical records; healthcare providers can’t honor these wishes if they don’t know about them.

 Doing research on financial assistance

Your parents’ nest egg for retirement – if they have one – may not be enough to cover medical needs, particularly unexpected ones. In your capacity as long-distance caregiver, you may research online and find promising resources to help your parents apply for financial aid if they are eligible.

Online resources for financial assistance

·         Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

The federal agency in charge of Medicare. Benefits and requisites can change and vary from state to state.

·         Medicaid

If your parents are on a fixed income and have limited resources, they may be eligible for Medicaid.

·         Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly

Provides care and services to people who would otherwise need nursing home care.

·         State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program

Counsels and assists people on Medicare, Medicaid, and Medigap.

·         Department of Veterans Affair

If your parent qualifies for veterans benefits.

·         National Council on Aging

In exchange for general information about your parent – which does not include name, address, or Social Security number – you can see a list of potential benefits.

·         Medicare insurance for prescription drugs


·         Partnership for Prescription Assistance

Provides a list of patient assistance programs supported by pharmaceutical companies.

·         Other federal, state, and local government benefits

You can also call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636) if you don’t have a computer. Of course, if you didn’t have a computer, you wouldn’t be reading this.


Make sure your parent’s home is safe

During an extended visit or vacation at your parent’s house you can inspect every room to make sure that the place is safe, especially if the aged is turning frail. You may miss some things, but also find things that need immediate attention. As soon as those urgent matters are taken care of, you can start considering other potential risks, for instance

·         Unmanageable stairs (a ramp may be required).

·         Tripping hazards at exterior entrances or inside the house.

·         The house is poorly lit.

·         Bulbs that need replacement.

·         Clutter which can cause disorientation and confusion and increase the risk of falling.

Also remember to check

·         That all walk areas are free of furniture and extension and electrical cords.

·         That there is at least one handrail that goes beyond the first and last steps on each flight of stairs.

·         That there are safety grip strips on stairs.

·         That there is food in the refrigerator and cabinets.

·         That the bills are being paid.

·         Whether the mail is piling up.

·         That the house is clean.

And while you’re there, stay on top of certain things, such as your parent’s road skills – if they are still driving –, their health (do they have to take medicines, and if so, are they actually taking them as prescribed or would a pill organizer come in handy), and their mood (whether they might be experiencing depression or anxiety). Depression is not a normal aspect of aging, though some people – even healthcare providers – think so. As a long-distance caregiver you can offer an outside-looking-in perspective; if there is a primary caregiver you can compare notes with him/her, who may have become accustomed to unsafe, unhealthy, or dangerous behavior and thus see it as normal.

Keep up with your parent’s medical care

If your parent has a medical condition, make sure to learn all that you possibly can about it. The National Institutes of Health is a good place to start researching authoritative information. If you’re going to search elsewhere on Internet, keep the following questions in mind:

·         Who is in charge of the content? Look for an ‘About Us’ page. The domain name may also give you a hint


A government agency.


An educational institution.


A professional organization or a non-profit.


A commercial website.


·         Who is the author? What are their credentials? Do they make a profit for making a recommendation?

·         Does the sponsoring organization have a clear mission statement?

·         Does the website encourage you to buy something in addition to providing information?

·         Can you contact the sponsor to request more information?

·         How new and scientifically-backed is the information?

·         Does the website ask you for your personal information?

You can talk to your own doctor about your parent’s illness, or ask your parent if you can accompany them to a doctor’s appointment. Likewise, ask permission to discuss their diagnosis with their physician, as well as to discuss healthcare bills with Medicare or other health insurance. Your parent should complete a release form before their doctor is allowed to discuss their care with you. You might be able to reach an agreement with your parent’s doctor to make a separate appointment to answer your questions or discuss sensitive matters (e.g. if you’re worried your parent is depressed and what is being or can be done about it), or have them keep you up to date via phone or e-mail, but it might cost you.

Talk to your parent’s doctor

If your parent agrees to your being present during a medical appointment, you better come prepared to help the doctor help you, which you can achieve by doing this?

·         Make a list of question in order of importance and take note of the answers.

·         Ask you parent, the primary caregiver, and any other involved relatives if they have a question they would like you to ask the doctor.

·         Make a list of all OTC and prescription drugs and supplements your parent is taking, along with the dosage and schedule, especially if your parent is seeing more than one doctor (one may not know what the other prescribed).

·         Let your parent answer the doctor’s questions unless you have been requested to do so.

·         Do not exclude either the doctor or your parent when you talk during the appointment.

·         Leave the room if asked to.