Cooking meals, paying bills, cleaning, attending doctors’ appointments, picking up medications – these are all responsibilities that many family caregivers have when it comes to helping an elderly loved one. However, this may look drastically different if you live an hour or more away from the person you are taking care of. This is referred to as long-distance caregiving.
Due to the reality that many older Americans may not be able to see family members regularly, it is important to understand how to take care of your aging parent from afar. Continue reading to learn about six important tips every long-distance caregiver should take into consideration.
1. Create a long-distance caregiving plan.
Whether you have been a long-distance caregiver for a while, or you have recently become one, it is crucial that you create a caregiving team that helps your loved one receive the care they need, even when you are not near them. This includes organizing a family meeting to discuss the roles each of you will play in caring for your loved one.
For example, if your parent lives at least an hour away from you, or even in a different state, you might discuss that your main responsibility will be to take on the role of managing their finances and paying their bills since this can easily be done online.
If you have other siblings, family members, or friends who live close by, you may all come together to share responsibilities and agree that one person takes your loved one to doctor’s appointments, another does all of the shopping for groceries, and yet another spends time with your loved one at least once a week.
If you are still considered the primary caregiver, make sure that you have access to your loved one’s important information (as mentioned previously, one example would be paying the bills). You will also need to have access to their legal and medical documents and make sure these are up-to-date (this includes documents such as a power of attorney).
2. Call your loved one when you are available.
While others who live closer to your loved one may often stop by to check on them, it is important that you do what you can to stay in-the-know about how your loved one is doing; this will give you a better idea of the kind of help you need to provide on your end.
If your loved one is still able to communicate with you, make sure to ask them how they are doing and if they think they need additional help with things around the home, with their medications, or even with their finances.
By knowing this, you are also able to connect with the rest of your care team to discuss what needs to be done next. It may also ease your mind to know that you still have a role in speaking with your loved one regularly, even though you cannot see them as often as you would like.
3. Remain in contact with your loved one’s doctor(s).
If your loved one has multiple health conditions and has to visit a doctor regularly, make it a priority to speak with their doctor so that you can receive updates on your loved one’s health. It is important as a long-distance caregiver that you learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition and any treatments that they are currently going through, or need to go through.
However, before you can gain access to both medical and financial information, you will need to receive written permission as it is stated under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
The National Institute on Aging also suggests that if you have this permission, to the extent possible, you should be the person who talks with all of the healthcare providers. Put all of your loved one’s information regarding medical care, financial issues, etc. into one place, and make copies for other caregivers on your team so that you always have this available. Also, make sure to update this information as needed.
4. Try to visit your loved one when you are able to.
While it is important to live in the moment and enjoy your time with them, it is equally as important for you to make sure that your loved one is doing well.
As part of your visit, there is a lot you can do as a long-distance caregiver. Try checking with your loved one or the primary caregiver (if this is not you) to learn about any outstanding tasks. For example, you may need to take your loved one to a few doctor’s appointments, help shop for food, clean the house, etc. Make sure to ask about these things ahead of time so that you are prepared on your arrival.
While you are with your loved one, be sure to check on them to ensure that they are physically and emotionally well. As mentioned in the AARP article, it is important to watch out for signs of physical and emotional abuse.
5. Be aware of when it is time to consider further care.
While it is possible to take care of a loved one even when you live a long distance away, know that you should consider further help if your loved one can no longer take care of regular tasks on their own (such as bathing, grooming, taking medications, etc.).
Considering different living arrangements for your loved one is one of the things you may need to do as a long-distance caregiver. While in-home care is an option, you may also want to consider transitioning them to an assisted living community or a memory care community (if they suffer from dementia). In long-term care, your loved one has the ability to receive more of the help they require.
You may also want to consider receiving help from a geriatric care manager, who is usually a licensed nurse or social worker trained in senior care. Not only will they help you understand your loved one’s care, but they can also provide emotional support for you and your loved one.
6. Give yourself time to breathe and do not become stressed.
Long-distance caregiving is difficult, but that does not mean that you have to be stressed out about your parent’s care all of the time. Try to stay in touch with everything that is going on with them, but do not become so worried that you reach a level of burnout. Keep in mind that you cannot do everything as a long-distance caregiver, and that is okay.
Also, if other family members are becoming overwhelmed with taking care of your loved one in-person, make sure to suggest respite care as an option.
If you want to learn what we do to help care for older adults in our community, download our brochure today.
1. “Getting Started With Long-Distance Caregiving.” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-started-long-distance-caregiving#who. Accessed 14 September 2020.
2. “Tips for Being a Long-Distance Family Caregiver.” AARP, https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/long-distance-care.html. Accessed 14 September 2020.
3. “How to Share Caregiving Responsibilities With Family Members.” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-share-caregiving-responsibilities-family-members. Accessed 14 September 2020.
4. “8 Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving.” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/8-tips-long-distance-caregiving. Accessed 14 September 2020.
5. “Six Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving.” Where You Live Matters, https://www.whereyoulivematters.org/six-tips-for-long-distance-caregiving/. Accessed 14 September 2020.
6. “What Is a Geriatric Care Manager?” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-geriatric-care-manager. Accessed 15 September 2020.
7. “What Is Respite Care?” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-respite-care. Accessed 15 September 2020.