Sara Powers, PhD is a Research Scientist with the Center for Research and Education at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.
Are you helping to take care of a family member or friend who lives far away? When someone needs your help with a health issue, it is natural to want to do everything in your power to give 100% of yourself. When your loved one is not close by, the situation is, of course, more complicated. If you have to travel more than an hour to reach a person you are helping care for, and if the distance sometimes interferes with these responsibilities, you may be considered a long-distance caregiver. Although the situation is challenging, there is much you can do, via technology and other tools and resources, to bridge the gap that distance creates, and to give the very best of yourself.
The following tips can help make your long-distance caregiving routine easier and more effective:
1. Do what you’re good at
- Are you at ease talking on the phone with doctors and other medical professionals and conveying their information to others? Are you a whiz at crunching numbers, developing a budget or paying bills? If so, you can do all these things remotely to contribute to your loved one’s care.
- You can keep in touch with people in a variety of ways. A simple phone call, text message, FaceTime request or email can let your loved ones know you are thinking about them and providing support from afar.
2. Plan and organize
- Hold group meetings with everyone involved in the caregiving process as often as necessary. This is a great way to help clarify roles, establish goals and get everyone on the same page. Don’t neglect to include your loved one in as many decisions as possible. A crucial element of developing, coordinating and implementing a successful team care plan is giving a voice to the person who is actually receiving the care.
- You may not be able to respond immediately to an emergency or reach your loved one on short notice, but you can still help put things in place should something unexpected occur. To prepare for a crisis, have necessary paperwork in order, such as advanced 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 you with any number of tasks. You can organize your loved one’s medical information, including medication reminders and refill dates, as well as appointment reminders and urgent care locations. Keeping important information in a shared, secure online format can be especially helpful when there are multiple caregivers involved.
3. Don’t push beyond your limits
- Remember that you don’t have to do everything at once. You only have so much time in a single visit, so make your expectations realistic. Instead of trying to accomplish all your goals in a short timeframe, prioritize the most important things. Focus on accomplishing a workable amount of care-related tasks, and try to enjoy your visit! Providing emotional support and simply spending time with your loved one, whether by going shopping, listening to music or sharing a meal, can re-energize you both and strengthen your bond.
4. Be your team’s care coordination guru
- You can become the go-to person to find necessary information on your loved one’s condition, medications, or care and services at reach within his or her community. The more information you can gather, the better prepared everyone will be to make informed decisions on your loved one’s behalf. Doing this research in advance can help you and others know what to expect as an illness progresses and what sort of care your loved one may need as the condition changes.
- For help on finding a wide range of valuable information, you may want to check out these professional and local care coordination resources:
Don’t forget to take care of yourself! 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. Although you may be separated by distance, you can still provide your loved one with crucial, quality care.
For more information on long-distance caregiving, read the free Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers by the Family Caregiver Alliance.