Caring From a Distance
By Sara Powers, PhD | 06/12/2019
Do you have to travel over 60 minutes to reach your loved one? Does this distance sometimes interfere with your caregiving responsibilities or prevent you from giving the care your loved one needs? If so, you may be considered a long-distance caregiver. Providing care from afar can complicate the caregiving experience, but there are tools, resources and new technological advancements that can help us all approach the distance in a more effective way.
Here are some tips we can consider incorporating into a long-distance caregiving routine:
1. Emphasize our strengths
- Do you feel comfortable talking on the phone with medical staff and communicating that information to others? Are you good at crunching numbers, developing a budget or paying bills? These are all things that can be done remotely and can contribute to a loved one’s care.
- Staying in touch with people can take many forms. A simple phone call, text message, FaceTime request or e-mail can let our loved ones know we are thinking about them and providing support from afar.
2. Plan, prepare and organize
- Hold group meetings with everyone involved in the caregiving process as often as necessary. These meetings will help clarify roles, establish goals and get everyone on the same page. We should make sure to include our loved ones in as many decisions as possible. Giving them a say in their care is crucial when developing, coordinating and implementing a successful care plan as a team.
- Even if we cannot respond immediately to an emergency or reach our loved ones on short notice, we can still help them prepare for unexpected situations. To prepare for a crisis, it can be useful to have necessary paperwork in order, such as advance directives, living wills or medical history/information.
- For day-to-day tracking, there are now online personal health record apps and websites that can help us organize our loved ones medical information, including medication reminders, refills and tracking, as well as appointment reminders and urgent care locations. Keeping important information in a shared, secure online format can be helpful when there are multiple people providing care.
3. Know our limitations
- When visiting, we shouldn’t pressure ourselves to complete all our tasks within a short timeframe. Instead of scheduling everything during one visit, we can prioritize our caregiving goals by setting realistic expectations for our time with our loved ones. We can focus on accomplishing a workable amount of care-related tasks, while remembering to enjoy our visit. Providing emotional support and simply spending time with our loved ones, whether by going shopping, listening to music or sharing a meal, can re-energize us and help us connect.
4. Become the family’s care coordination guru
- We can look up necessary information about a loved one’s condition, medications they may be taking or care and services that are available within their home or local community. The more information we can gather regarding our loved ones condition, the better prepared we can be to make informed decisions on their behalf or together with care partners. Information gathering can help us and others know what to expect as an illness progresses and what types of care our loved ones may need as their condition changes.
- We can also make use of professional and local care coordination resources like:
- WeCare, a proven care-coaching program developed through research by Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging
- Resources offered from our loved ones local Area Agency on Aging or services offered by the US Administration on Aging
- Benefit assessments provided by the National Council on Aging
- Medicare support and information, or government services for older people and veterans offered by the Social Security Administration
- Support from a local place of worship or senior center in our loved ones neighborhoods.
We should remember that it can also be important for us to take care of ourselves. Although distance may separate us and our loved ones, it does not need to diminish the quality of care we offer. Make sure to provide care within your means, and recognize when you are doing the best you can within the terms of your caregiving journey.
For further information on long-distance caregiving, check out the free Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers by the Family Caregiver Alliance.