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The challenge of long-distance caregiving

In the United States, millions of adults have taken on the role of caregiver to an aging loved one. And statistics show that many of these family caregivers live more than an hour away from their care recipient. This represents millions of long-distance caregivers, and these numbers are only expected to grow in the coming years.

Focus on what you can do

If you are acting as a long-distance caregiver, you know how difficult it can be to get an accurate handle on how your loved one is faring. Technology like video calls may have improved communication, but it’s still no substitute for assessing and managing a situation in person. And when you are there to see for yourself, the realities of your loved one’s circumstances can often leave you with anxiety and guilt.

The tendency of many long-distance caregivers is to focus on all the things they are unable to help with from afar. Instead, concentrate on the many things you can do remotely:

• Research and find a reputable housekeeper, and schedule weekly or twice-monthly visits to your loved one’s home.

• Call your loved one’s physician to get an unbiased assessment of any health issues and to advocate for the senior if necessary. Your loved one will need to authorize the doctor to release their private health information to you.

• Setup online banking for your loved one’s accounts so that you can manage their bill payments remotely.

• Set up a food or meal delivery service. Also, Meals on Wheels is a wonderful organization that helps disadvantaged seniors with nutrition as well as social isolation.

• If a family member lives closer and is acting as a primary caregiver, schedule a longer visit, and offer to give that person an extended break. (This is sometimes referred to as respite care.)

Other long-distance caregiving tips

Communicate often

Yes, visit in person as often as you can, but in the interim, be sure to reach out to your loved one on a regular schedule—perhaps every day or weekly, depending on their situation. Again, if possible, take advantage of video calls so that you can actually see the person. That can be helpful to not only ease your concerns but also to uplift your loved one.

Make an emergency plan

Having a robust emergency plan in place can alleviate some of the anxiety around the “what ifs” of long-distance caregiving. Make a list of important contact names and numbers including other family members, nearby friends and neighbors, and physicians. Get copies of important legal and medical documents like insurance policies, advance directives, and a will, and be sure to have a list of the care recipient’s current medications. Be sure you’ve also set up a healthcare power of attorney and durable power of attorney

Use your resources

Whether it’s contracting with someone (or enlisting a helpful neighbor) to maintain the yard, coordinating a transportation service to take your loved one shopping or to the doctor, hiring an in-home care specialist to assist with activities of daily living (ADLs), or using a geriatric care manager to coordinate care, there are people who are ready and willing to help. 

There also are numerous technology-based resources that are useful for long-distance caregivers. Web-enabled home sensor systems, smartphone medication reminders, and more can be used from afar to help an aging loved one.

Take care of yourself too

Many primary caregivers put themselves last and suffer their own negative health consequences as a result.

This also can apply to remote caregivers who may be susceptible to increased levels of stress and anxiety, both of which are detrimental to your overall health.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your situation, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional about stress management techniques.

Caring across the miles

It is increasingly common today for family members to live far away from one another. Whether that distance is for a job, an education, a relationship, or simply by choice, the miles can become challenging when an aging loved one needs care.

 Acting as a long-distance caregiver isn’t easy, but by getting organized, utilizing available resources and technology, and focusing on the positive, you can still do a world of good for an aging loved one, even from far away.

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