When a family member or friend lives an hour or more away from the older adult they are caring for, they are considered a long-distance caregiver. While caregiving can be demanding role no matter where you live, long-distance caregivers face unique challenges.
Here are some barriers that long-distance caregivers face:
- Not being present. Distance makes it difficult for family members and friends to evaluate a loved one’s well-being on a routine basis. Not being able to see a loved one regularly or assess the condition of their home puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to heading off small problems before them become more serious ones.
- Feeling absent. In addition to physically being at a distance from your loved one, you may feel that you are not aware of what is happening in their life. This may lead to feelings of guilt for not being able to be more engaged.
- Lack of local knowledge.Not living on the same area as your loved one means that you aren’t necessarily familiar with all the offerings in the community that could benefit someone in their daily life.
The good news, however, is that there are steps families can take to make it easier to care for a loved one from miles away.
6 Tips for Making Long-Distance Caregiving Go More Smoothly
- Get organized. Knowing what you need as a long-distance caregiver is going to make the journey and intervention when needed much easier. It will also help the caregiver to be less stressed and more effective. Managing health information and making sure at least one individual who has authority to make decisions has access to medical records and authorization to speak with the older adult’s medical team.Ideally have a schedule of when medical appointments happen and a current list of medications. You can use a binder to organize the documents or an app such as My Medical may be more your style for keeping the information easily accessible.
- Make the most of visits. When you visit your family member or friend, plan ahead with your loved one so that you can make the most of the time you have together. Create a list of tasks you must accomplish, such as home repairs, physician appointments, helping to remove expired medications, and completing a home safety checklist. And also create a list with your loved one for things that you would like to accomplish.
- Plan for fun too. There may be a temptation to pack all the to-dos into one visit, but for your peace of mind and the enjoyment of all involved, make sure you leave time for and plan activities that bring some true connection as well. It might be visiting a place or restaurant you used to go together, stopping by the home of an old friend, attending a worship service or taking a walk together. Remember that being together is the main focus of the visit, so try to limit outside distractions that can wait until you return home.
- Local Support. It helps to build a local network of support. If you don’t already know them, try to meet your family member or friend main contacts - friends, neighbors, health care providers and worship centers leaders. Be sure to provide each of them with your contact information and let them know they can reach out to you with any concerns they may see with your loved one. You can also find local resources by finding the Area Agency on Aging in the area where your family member or friend lives.
- Stay in touch. If you feel it would be welcomed by your family member or friend, create a set-up for you to be able to do a video-chat so you can see one another between visits.This is could done by listing a step by step process for your loved one to use the feature on their computer, or at least how to answer a request for a chat when you call, teaching how to use the chat feature on their cell phone if they have one, or by installing Google Nest or Google Home or a similar system that would make it possible for them to interact with other people in your home or take a virtual tour if they are not able to visit.
- Remember to care for yourself. Care giving, whether on a day to day basis in-person, or from afar, can be both a rewarding endeavor and also a demanding, energy-zapping one. Remember to seek support for others and ask for help if you need it. Accept credits for your efforts and always be mindful not to neglect your own health because you’re focused on caring for another. The Family Caregiver Alliance is a wealth of information for those who help support the need of an older adult, and the National Institute on Aging offers a printable PDF of reminders to make yourself a priority too.
You may find it helpful to hire a company that can provide you with a CarePro who can engage in consistent home visits and phone calls with your loved one and send a wellness report back to you with information you can track from one visit to the next. Knowing someone is there when you are not able to be can bring the peace of mind both you and your loved one deserve.