Dear Savvy Senior,
What kinds of help are available to long-distance caregivers? My mother has gotten forgetful in her old age and has fallen a few times during the past year but is determined to stay living in her own house. How can I help her from 700 miles away?
-- Worried Daughter
In today's mobile society, caring for an elderly parent from afar has become increasingly common. In fact, the National Institute of Health estimates there are about seven million Americans who are long-distance caregivers. Here are some tips and resources that can help you.
When it comes to monitoring and caring for an aging parent that lives far away, you have a couple options. You can hire a professional to oversee your parent, or you can coordinate the care yourself by assembling a network of neighbors, friends, medical specialists, drivers, housekeepers and other helpers.
In either case, you might want to start by having your mom get a geriatric assessment. This is a professional evaluation to identify her needs and a suggested plan to manage her care. To find a professional who does this, contact your mom's doctor or visit the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers website at caremanager.org.
Once you get an assessment, then you'll decide how to proceed. If you decide to hire a geriatric care manager, the manager can set up all aspects of care and monitor your mom's ongoing needs.
If her health deteriorates, the geriatric care manager can determine if assisted living or a nursing home is the best option and find a suitable facility. Care managers charge hourly rates for these services ranging between $75 and $150 per hour, and it's not covered by Medicare.
If you can't afford to use a care manager, here are some things you can help yourself manage her care by:
* Assembling a care team. Put together a network of people (nearby friends or family, neighbors, clergy, mail carrier, etc.) who can check in on your mom regularly. Be sure they have your contact information.
* Finding local resources. Most communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that provide seniors with basic needs, such as home delivered meals, transportation and senior companion services. To find out what's available, contact the Area Agency on Aging in your mom's community. Call 800-677-1116 for contact information.
* Getting a handle on finances. If your mom needs help with her financial chores, arrange for direct deposit of her Social Security and other pension checks, and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills. Or consider hiring a professional money manager (they charge between $25 and $100 per hour) who can do it for her.
* Using technology. For about $1 a day, rent your mom a personal emergency response system. This is a small pendent-style "SOS" button that she wears, allowing her to call for help if she falls. Also, check out home-monitoring systems.
* Hiring home help. Depending on her needs, you might need to hire a home-care provider that can help with homemaking chores, personal care or medical issues. Costs vary from about $12 to $30 per hour. To find home-care assistance, call your mom's doctor's office, the discharge planner at her local hospital or see medicare.gov/hhcompare.
* Seeking financial assistance. Visit benefitscheckup.org to look for programs that may help your mom pay for drugs, health care, utilities and other expenses.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.