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Care Across the Pond

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How to manage your loved one's care from abroad.

Getting older presents challenges for the person experiencing it, but caring for an aging loved one presents challenges all its own — magnified when the adult child lives in another state or country. Perhaps the senior has decided to retire abroad or an exciting job opportunity has taken the would-be caregiver overseas, making hands-on, day-to-day care impossible. However, it’s still possible to remain engaged with care options as a long-distance caregiver. 

For seniors and caregivers alike, the first step is starting the conversation about what type of care the senior wants and needs. This is important, of course, for every situation — not just when one person is abroad.

Legal

Uncomfortable as it may be to discuss, it’s very important that the adult child discuss legal matters with their parent, arranging power of attorney (including medical power of attorney), plans for the surviving spouse and having a current and living will. Family Caregiver Alliance provides a document titled “Where to Find My Important Papers,” that will let family members access the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Administration and the senior’s attorney, accountant and physician. A caregiving notebook should include not only prescriptions, but where they are filled, plus physician contact information. Similarly, contact information for lawyers and accountants should be included, as well as that of neighbors and friends who have agreed to help with care. Know where legal documents, tax returns, insurance policies and financial details like bank accounts, credit cards and their passwords are kept. For those living abroad, you might consider a secure online file or app so the information can be accessed from anywhere. 

The complicated world of power of attorney will vary by state and by family. A living will specifies which medical treatments the patient wants, while a medical power of attorney designates someone else to make the choices. More than one person can be designated with power of attorney, which may be helpful when one relative lives abroad. It is advisable to have a power of attorney that resides in the same jurisdiction of the person and property concerned, and often power of attorney must be verified and approved in a consular office for use abroad. The principal can also appoint one ‘primary’ power of attorney to make decisions in case the other person isn’t available to be present. 

Maintaining Relationships

On one hand, keeping up relationships with family from home is essential in preserving a sense of cultural identity for the person abroad (particularly children). For the senior, staying in touch with family will combat the isolation that is so common among the elderly, especially if the family lives far away. For the tech savvy senior, a weekly Skype call allows facetime, where grandchildren can share the week’s highlights and adult children can assess their parent’s needs without being in the same place. Spectrum Retirement Communities participate in the HeartLegacy program that allows seniors to record videos for family. The videos are then edited and enhanced to be shared with family and friends. Similarly, phone calls (especially on birthdays or special events), cards for holidays and special occasions and photos or drawings made by the grandkids can all contribute to the senior feeling connected. Visiting on holidays (or arrangements for the senior to visit) are also important.

Getting There

Many major airlines offer what they call compassion fares — a ten-to twenty-percent discount on a ticket for the immediate family of a person who has passed away or has a serious medical emergency. The tickets typically allow travel with short notice and flexibility with dates and ticket changes. When booking these flights, they must be made on the phone with a ticketing agent, and the airline will need your loved one’s full name; the name, phone number and address of the hospital; and the physician’s name to confirm a compassion fare. However, sometimes discounted tickets online may be the more affordable option, so ask that the reservation be held for twenty-four hours while you search for other fares. 

Living abroad doesn’t have to mean a disconnect from one’s parents — it simply involves a different type of planning to ensure the senior is being cared for in the best way for them. The adult child also needs to keep their own self-care in mind as the parent/child role changes — caring for an aging parent can be a big job, often coupled with guilt. However, with millions of Baby Boomers approaching a certain age, they won’t be alone in caring for a senior from afar, and they’ll find plenty of support among their peers.