By LYNN KELLOGG – Generations                        Aug 27, 2017

A cousin called from the Seattle area wondering if I knew anything about services available in southern Florida. Her dad, my uncle and a widower of several years living alone, was recovering from a hip replacement and needed support.

About the same time, a friend from the Detroit area called about help for her father living in southern Ohio. Her father’s macular degeneration had progressed into serious disability and her mother had just passed, leaving her dad without his well-sighted partner.

Both women have busy jobs and are long-distance caregivers. They can visit, but not live by their respective fathers. Both fathers wanted to stay where they were if possible. Tough situations, but surprisingly common.

 What is a caregiver? Sometimes called an informal caregiver, this could be any unpaid individual (for example, a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor) involved in assisting others with routine activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.

2015 national statistics from the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco showed that 43.5 million Americans provided regular, unpaid care to someone needing ongoing help. Of these, 5-7 million were long-distance caregivers. The number of long-distance caregivers is projected to double by 2020.

While most caregivers, about 66 percent, live within 10 miles of the person they’re caring for, nationally, long-distance caregivers live an average of 450 miles from their care recipients; or approximately seven hours travel time. Their anxiety tends to be higher, and they worry a lot.

What to do? There’s no one answer, every situation is different. But there is an invaluable resource available when trying to figure out what help might be available in another part of the country. The Eldercare Locator is a phone call, or click away.

Launched in 1991, the locator is funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging, part of the Administration for Community Living, and administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Here’s how it works. By calling 1-800-677-1116, you’ll be connected to a professional trained in elder care and well-versed in common issues and needed services.

The locator receives about 300,000 requests for assistance annually on a wide range of topics, including transportation, housing, benefits eligibility and home- and community-based services.

Want to know about specific local services in a given community? Just give the person taking your call the city or zip code of the person you want to help, and they’ll be able to connect you directly with a local expert virtually anywhere.

At the Region IV Area Agency on Aging, we serve as the local expert, and routinely get calls patched through from the locator from distant friends or family wanting to help someone in Southwest Michigan.

Call times are handy. Locator phone lines are manned from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.

The locator can be found online at www.eldercare.gov. Just punch in the city or zip code you’re interested in. Local contact information will pop up.

You can narrow your search by choosing certain topics to research. Information and brochures on high-profile topics also are available.

Want to know more about how the locator works? Visit www.n4a.org/files/EldercareLocatorDataReport.pdf.

Figuring out a plan long distance isn’t easy, but these tools can help a lot. Good luck.

Lynn Kellogg is chief executive officer of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.