Caregiving from a Distance
So, you get the idea that something is wrong. Maybe there are worried phone calls from a sibling or you just don’t think mom sounds the same on the phone - and before you know it, you join millions of family caregivers in the US who live at least one hour away from an adult family member who needs your help.
Whether it comes on gradually, or suddenly with an unexpected stroke or health event, you have to rearrange life to accommodate your new role. How big of a role depends of course on your situation, how healthy and independent your loved one is, and whether you have siblings or other family members who are serving as a primary caregiver.
If there is no one close to the person, you may be facing decisions about moving toward her or having her move toward you. Of course, many caregivers are not just experiencing one role. You may be a mother or a father yourself and are likely employed.
So, what are the issues and how can you help from a distance?
Assessing an Elderly Person From a Distance
It is often important to visit for a few days to assess your loved one’s health and situation first hand. While it is good to talk to family members or others who are near your family member, your perspective may be different. Sometimes, when people are in close and in daily contact, gradual changes and decline are hard to see.
Senior Issues to Look For
- Health – Has your loved one been working with a physician and if so, what is the diagnosis and treatment? If not, is medical attention needed?
- Emotional Health – is your loved one in a good mood generally? Are you concerned about depression? See our Geriatric Mood Scale.
- Support – how much support does the person have nearby: physical assistance, friendships, groups and activities, community-based programs or help, etc. Find out who they are and meet neighbors, friends, and others who may have contact with your loved one on a regular basis. Form a contact list of these people so you can have someone to help if there is a problem and you are too far away to be there in a timely fashion or just when you need someone to check in.
- Independence - How capable is your loved one of independently taking care of his or her daily activities? Here is a good "Activities of Daily Living" checklist to help guide your thinking on it.
- Life Management – is the household in order and is he or she paying bills, etc. – download this Instrumental Activities of Daily Living checklist.
It sounds corny – but it is really helpful. After you assess the situation, it is important to meet with or communicate with other family members to identify and assign tasks. Early meetings like these often prevent sibling and other family conflict later and can make everyone’s job easier. At the family meeting, you should work together to define the problem. If there is big disagreement about how good or bad the situation is, it can be hard to follow through with help and assistance later. Work toward a common definition of what is going on and what needs to be done.
Then, when assigning roles or tasks, the best thing to keep in mind is to look for strengths in each person and what each person would be best at handling. Sometimes, you will have someone who lives closer be the “main” caregiver who coordinates things because of proximity. For instance, one person is better at visiting with and entertaining Dad and another is good with bills and sorting out the needs of the household. Another may have a nursing background and be a great person to coordinate visiting nurses and other medical resources.
Common Roles for Long-Distance Caregivers
Some potential ways you can Care from a Distance
- Getting papers and affairs in order – Our organizing tips for caregivers can help with downloadable forms and ideas to get started.
- Arranging for community based care: setting up appointments, filling out applications for home nursing care or other respite care options in the community. Setting up skilled nursing care if needed. See the “Eldercare Locator” for help with this online.
- Visiting periodically for chunks of time to give the primary caregiver respite or vacation time.
- Communicating updates to the rest of the extended family and keeping in touch with the friends of your loved one if she is unable to.
- If a rehab is needed after a surgery, you could arrange to have the person go to a rehab in your area.
- Making regular phone calls to the loved one to check in.
- Encouraging and being a sounding board for those who are closer.
- Set up and receive notifications of reminders and check-in services like the SageMinder for an additional layer of safety and peace of mind.
- If a move is being considered, you will also need to garner the assistance of your family members to help with the transition and details of the move.
Keeping Your Balance
No matter which roles you take, it is important to know what your limits are and what you can realistically accomplish without sacrificing yourself. Make time for:
- Your own children/spouse/family
- Good nutrition