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Long-Distance Caregiving: Caring for Aging Family Members During a Pandemic

COVID-19 has made caregiving for the elderly more complex. Even during a pandemic, people’s need for care doesn’t stop, but caregivers (especially long-distance) are faced with new challenges. If you’re helping an aging family member or loved one from afar, you may have found your responsibilities have increased. Or that it’s become more difficult to complete your existing duties. 

Long-distance caregiving is always difficult, and the pandemic makes it even harder. Visits to an elderly relative may have become more infrequent or even stopped altogether. And the resurgence of the virus will keep many families apart this holiday season. 

If you're approaching retirement, it's likely that you're caring, at least part-time, for an aging parent or extended family member. Given that you might not be able to visit as much as you want right now, how can you be a helpful caregiver even from far away? 

What Does it Mean to Be a Long-Distance Caregiver?

Anyone caring for an aging friend, relative, or parent from afar is considered a long-distance caregiver. Usually, that means from a different city or state. But in the context of the pandemic and the higher risk to seniors, you may have had to shift to long-distance care even if you live nearby. In this reality, more people are acting as long-distance caregivers than before. 

Many retirement savers have had to socially distance themselves from elderly moms, dads, or sick family members due to their immunocompromised state. This can be really hard when you want to help but feel limited. Our advice is to concentrate on what you can do - there is actually a lot: 

  • Help with money management, budgeting, and bill paying
  • Serve as an information coordinator—research health problems, insurance, and medicare benefits, schedule appointments, and help navigate the changing COVID restrictions and precautions
  • Keep family and friends in the loop
  • Provide emotional support and connection through calls, texts, FaceTime, etc.
  • Create a plan in case of serious illness, including choosing a room in the home to separate sick household members from others
  • Order medications and plan for extra in case of emergency
  • Arrange for grocery delivery, Meals on Wheels, or send a care package with treats (photos, activities, foods they like and can eat)

If you’re brand new to being a caregiver, start by asking the care recipient and the current primary caregiver, if there is one, how you can be most helpful. Learn as much as you can about your family member’s condition and treatment. Seek advice from friends who are caregivers and have ‘been there before’. 

Special Considerations for Caregivers During COVID-19

The current data suggests that now is not a great time to move an aging parent or grandparent to a senior facility. This means many families are putting it off and may be caring for a family member longer than expected. There are other things to watch out for in the current public health climate: 

Choose Home Health Care Services Carefully 

Arranging home health care services is tricky right now, as both demand, and worries, have increased. If you do want to hire professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides, be sure to vet them very carefully—and we recommend going with a licensed agency. Ask questions about the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, what PPE equipment they provide, and how often the workers are tested for the virus.

Be Prepared, Be Flexible 

Inform yourself about regulations, and get used to them changing. The situation continues to be very unstable and rules adjust accordingly. Realize that you may not be able to accompany your care recipient to appointments even if you do decide to visit them.

Use Remote Care Options 

Consider setting your family member up for a form of virtual care such as telehealth. Check with their regular medical provider, as many are now offering contactless appointments by phone or videoconference.

Make a Plan to Stay Connected 

In many ways, social isolation is hardest on those who are elderly and ill. Protect your mental health and theirs by checking in regularly. Setup communication with your loved one and other family members through a variety of technologies. You might even create a theme or fun game to keep the conversation going: punny-joke-of-the-day, funny gif contest, etc. 

It Takes a Village 

As a caregiver, you can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything yourself, especially long-distance. Put together a team of friends, relatives, and neighbors who are willing to participate in the care of your elder loved one. Create a schedule or a group chat to keep up with key caregiving duties and share updates.  

Financial Preparedness for Caregiving

As fiduciary financial advisors, we feel called to remind you of the financial aspects of being a caregiver. Being a caregiver is a loving act that is often physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. It can be daunting, especially when you’re also trying to plan for retirement. But planning ahead will help you avoid stress and gain peace of mind. 

Don’t wait to find out what financial assistance exists and how to access it. Talk to your financial advisor if you need help figuring out how to handle caregiving costs without derailing your retirement savings plan.

And to make planning for retirement a little easier, get our Essential Retirement Guide. Learn the seven things you need to do before you retire - and gain peace of mind knowing you have a plan. 

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