Consumer Reports: Adult children can get help caring for aging parents

For many, caring for an aging parent is a daily juggle. It is estimated that up to 7 million people in the United States help care for an older relative long distance, a number expected to double in the next 15 years as the elderly population grows.

If you are the designated caregiver in your family and you live more than an hour away from the relative who needs help, Orly Avitzur, medical adviser to Consumers Union, suggests these ways of preparing for the next crisis.

Maintain a care notebook

Keep a file of your parents’ medical records, including test results, current medication, allergies, insurance coverage and Social Security numbers, along with their physicians’ contact information. Collect e-mail addresses and phone numbers for neighbors and close friends, as well as the phone number for the nearest hospital.

Develop a relationship with your parents’ doctors

Avitzur appreciates the input when adult daughters or sons accompany their parents to office visits — especially when they arrive with current medication lists and knowledge of medical issues. If possible, schedule your parents’ appointments while you’re visiting. To avoid future frustration, ask your parents to sign privacy releases giving your doctors authorization to speak with you by phone regarding their care.

Find a local senior or geriatric care manager

These professionals are usually trained in gerontology, social work, nursing or psychology, and can identify problems and help provide solutions that you might not be aware of. They can also screen, place and monitor in-home help, and arrange for short- or long-term assistance for long-distance caregivers. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, at www.caremanager.org, provides lists of its members tailored to your location. A consultation costs about $80 to $250 an hour.

Set up an alert system

If your parent lives alone, talk with him or her about an electronic alert system for emergencies. These systems, typically lightweight devices worn around the neck or wrist, require only a push of a button to generate an automatic call to summon emergency help. You might also want to arrange a daily check-in call or e-mail message.

Don’t go it alone

If you have siblings, try to split doctors’ visits, financial costs and other responsibilities with them as much as possible. Make a list of family members, friends and neighbors who are willing to help with transportation and home visits. Check into senior day care or recreational programs available through local governments or nonprofit groups. Also investigate the availability of meal-delivery programs and transportation services. If such services together still don’t provide the supervision your parent needs, ask people at the sponsoring organizations if they know someone willing to move in, perhaps in exchange for room and board or a small stipend. (Be sure to check references carefully.)

Additional resources

Caring From a Distance (www.cfad.org; 202-895-9465)

Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org; 800-445-8106)

National Family Caregivers Association (www.nfcacares.org; 800-896-3650)

National Respite Network (www.archrespite.org; 703-256-2084)

AARP (www.aarp.org/families/caregiving; 888-687-2277).

Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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