Caring for a loved one at a distance can be incredibly difficult. Of the tens of millions of Americans that provide care on an annual basis to older family members, around 15% of them are long-distance caregivers.
If you provide care and live any distance over one hour in travel time away, you are a long-distance caregiver. There are some substantial problems for Caregivers providing care from afar, including time, cost of travel, your inability to be there in an emergency/on short notice, and more.
Regardless of how it feels, as a long-distance caregiver you are not alone. In this article, we are going to offer some tips to help you get through long-distance caregiving.
Create an emergency plan and contact list
One of the most stressful parts of caregiving from afar is the fear of an emergency. Emergencies pop up unexpectedly, and you may feel helpless when you think about what an emergency may mean while you’re away. Instead of stressing about emergency situations, prepare for them.
Create an emergency plan, pull together all local contacts and several methods of contact (multiple phone numbers, for example) for each individual. Make sure they have your information as well. That way if an emergency happens, you’ve already determined exactly how you’re going to respond and you won’t panic.
Plan your visits strategically
Especially if you are the primary caregiver, use your visits as opportunities to accomplish tasks. Appointments with a doctor, for example, are a great task to accompany your loved one to.
This is especially important if your loved one has a hard time remembering specifics. Your attendance at important doctor’s appointments can help organize any diagnosis and medication details and stay on top of treatment plans.
Between appointments, treatment plans, care plans, emergency contact information, insurance claims, prescription information, etc. there is a lot of paperwork. It can be hard to stay on top of everything and be organized at a distance.
Plan to bring a computer or filing system with you on each visit so that you can print out any documents you’re missing, keep them all filed away and organized, and fill in any gaps.
Schedule Regular Virtual Visits
If visiting your family member often isn’t possible, schedule a regular phone or video conversation to hold you over between visits. You can install easy-to-access phones in your loved one’s nursing home room, or install a phone in each room of the house.
Not only will this give you an easy way to stay in communication, but it also offers a bit of peace of mind knowing that your loved one can get into contact with you easily, no matter where they are.
Utilize Assistive Technologies
There have been many inventions over the last decade or so that can make caregiving from a distance much safer for your loved one, and much more convenient for you. While there are endless examples of assistive technologies (from low-tech solutions, like wheelchairs, to high-tech solutions, like heart or location monitors), there’s sure to be something out there that will help your situation.
If you’re curious which assistive technologies will be useful for you, here are a few tips to find the right tools:
Evaluate the biggest needs or fears. For example, if you fear your loved one may fall when no one is around and have a hard time calling for help, a life-alert style wearable may be right for your situation.
Ask around. Consider asking your loved one’s doctors or others that have dealt with similar ailments to get recommendations.
Test and try it out. Before you commit to an expensive piece of technology, see if you can test it out on a trial basis and make sure it does what you need it to.
Care for Yourself Too
It's easy when caring at a distance to use up all of your vacation days in your travel back and forth to see your loved one. With the loss of vacation days, the added expense of travel, the added stress of care, heavy emotions or anticipatory grief, etc., it's easy to lose yourself in stress.
Take time to care for yourself too. It’s not selfish to use a vacation day for yourself; take time to read, relax, pamper yourself, exercise, or just breathe.
Long-distance caregiving is a selfless and difficult task.Long-distance caregiving is a selfless and difficult task. Whether you’re an hour driving distance or in another State there are resources to help support your loved one to live as safely as possible in their home. Contact the local Area Agency on Aging to learn about community programs and services for seniors 60 and over such as home delivered meals, friendly visitor or care management program for additional support.
For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to call us at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.