The idea of aging in place or growing older where you live is popular. While three-fourths of people over the age of 45 plan to age in place in their own residence, that percentage jumps even higher for people over the age of 50.
But most people cannot age in place without some help. As the aging population grows, more children of older adults will have to step up to become informal caregivers.
While some adult kids are fortunate to live in the same city as their parents, others have moved away from their hometowns. Fortunately, it is possible to be a long-distance caregiver. It’s not easy, mind you, but with careful planning, resources such as 70Strong.org, and plenty of communication, you can help your parents stay in their current residence safely.
Help with Medicare
Medicare is an invaluable resource that helps seniors in the United States cover increasing medical expenses. As an informal caregiver, it is up to you to ensure that your parent has coverage throughout the year. Medicare open enrollment is only available during a fixed amount of time each year. The exact dates are subject to change each year, but generally, the period begins sometime in mid-October and ends in early December. Starting in 2019, patients can switch between their Medicare Advantage plans between January 1 and March 31.
- Use the following tips to navigate around the pitfalls of Medicare enrollment.
- Compare the various Medicare plans available at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan. Remember that plans differ from state to state, so use your parent’s state of residence to look up choices that are available for them.
- Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans help cover what regular Medicare Plans A and B will not. Medigap plans have more predictable costs, but Medicare Advantage premiums are lower. Learn more about the difference between the two in a Forbes article here.
HICAP = Free Medicare Counseling in San Mateo County and Throughout California
- If your parents live in San Mateo County, California, contact HICAP, the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program for free, confidential counseling and community education. Learn about HICAP via the 70 Strong directory.
- If your parents live in other counties of California, you can learn more about HICAP here.
- If your parents live outside of California, contact the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) in your parent’s state — not your own. SHIP provides free one-on-one counseling for seniors navigating their plan options.
More Community Resources
One of the hardest things about long-distance caregiving is not being able to be there during those unexpected moments when your loved one needs assistance. Thankfully, there are resources you can tap into when a physical presence is important such as assisting with transportation, medical care or even socialization to help prevent loneliness. Studies show that social connections keep people of all ages healthy.
In southern and central San Mateo County, California, 70 Strong lists dozens of free and low-cost resources for residents ages 60 and up. Among them are HICAP, transportation options, housing including the Villages of San Mateo County, part of the nationwide and worldwide village movement; support groups, many volunteer opportunities to stay active and help others, and dementia resources.
In Colorado, a nonprofit organization called A Little Help connects seniors with people in their community that are available for assistance. Neighbors help seniors with transportation, yard work, home organization, socialization and more. Furthermore, A Little Help creates opportunities for seniors to share their stories and skills in the community so they feel included, respected and useful. Organizations like A Little Help seek to create stronger communities while helping older citizens experience healthier and happier lives.
Many houses of worship offer services for seniors in the community. If your parent has a designated house of worship, talk to their community leader about these services. If your parent does not have a house of worship, talk to them about the possibility of joining one. Even if they are not particularly religious, joining a spiritual community may be worthwhile. Studies have shown that going to religious services may help people live longer.
In summary, being an informal caregiver for a parent when you live in a distant location is a challenge. However, with the right planning and resources, it is possible. Helping your parent navigate Medicare is a crucial part of being a caregiver. Research the plans available and find a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan that helps cover additional costs. There are organizations available that connect people with seniors for a stronger community. Look through local nonprofits or houses of worship to find a network that can be there for your parent when you are unable.
This piece was written for 70 Strong by Claire Wentz. Her website is CaringfromAfar.com