Long Distance Caregiving

Long Distance Caregiving: Top Questions

Whether you are living one hour away or in a different state, caring for a loved one or friend from a distance is no easy task.  Caring for a loved one can take many forms—from helping with money management to arranging for in-home care; from providing respite care for a primary caregiver to creating a plan in case of emergencies. Many long-distance caregivers act as information coordinators, helping aging parents understand the confusing maze of new needs, including home health aides, insurance benefits and claims, and durable medical equipment. Caregivers near and far find themselves navigating this ever-changing relationship. Initially, it may be a weekly phone call to check in and update an elder on the happenings around them; then, it may turn into managing household bills, assisting withe medical decisions and arranging grocery delivery. As the status of a senior changes, so does the role of the caregiver, despite the distance between them.

As there are at least 7 million long distance caregivers nationally, below are a few questions that you may be having as well.

  • How do I know if help is needed?
    • This can be a tricky one…sometimes a loved one will ask for help; a sudden start to an illness is another clear indicator that help is needed. However, other times it is not this simple and a phone call may not be the best way to tell whether or not an older person needs help. Calling during meal times and asking “what’s for dinner?” can give an indication of what they may be having. A visit may be necessary with a pre-made checklist with possible problem areas.
  • What can I really do from far away?
    • Many long-distance caregivers provide emotional support and occasional respite to a primary caregiver. Staying in contact with your parents by phone or email might also take some pressure off your sister. Long-distance caregivers can play a part in arranging for professional caregivers, hiring home health and nursing aides, or locating care in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • How can my family decide who does what?
    • The first step is setting up a family meeting before an emergency strikes. You may want to include the senior, if they are capable. Naming a primary caregiver can avoid future confusion and allow for them to facilitate any information from other sources to the rest of the family. Think about your schedules and how to adapt them to give respite to a primary caregiver or to coordinate holiday and vacation times. One family found that it worked to have the long-distance caregiver come to town while the primary caregiver was on a family vacation. Many families report that offering appreciation, reassurance, and positive feedback to the primary caregiver is an important, but sometimes forgotten contribution.

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