A family caregiver’s helping hand can only reach so far. A family caregiver living closer to a loved one can respond to a senior’s needs more quickly and easily. Trying to care from afar, either for routine responsibilities or emergency situations, can become more difficult.
Long-distance caregivers generally live an hour (or more) away from their loved ones. Traveling time will be doubled as the family caregiver will return home. This was my experience. My parents retired and moved from their former home to Victoria, British Columbia. Island-living seemed idyllic, but Mom and Dad were many miles away. Visiting, communicating with, and supporting my parents became harder, especially when their needs increased.
Overcoming the problems associated with long-distance caregiving is not impossible. Here are a few recommendations:
Keeping in touch isn’t that difficult. Making simple communication changes can help to keep seniors and family caregivers connected.
- Visit. Personal visiting is an ideal means of communication. This can provide great joy and comfort and can also be an excellent means of gathering information that you may not be able to conveniently access from afar. This includes evaluating a loved one’s motor functions or living environment.
- Telephone. Call your loved one to check-in. Listen carefully for any red flags. Does your loved one completely follow the conversation? Does your loved one’s voice crack (perhaps indicating that he/she hasn’t spoken to anyone else that day)?
- E-mail. For more tech-savvy seniors, e-mail can be an effective communication tool. Users can go above and beyond typed messages. Send documents or family photos. Share website links for local resources. Create a paper trail for follow-up communication.
- Text. Do you only have a few minutes to write? Need to ask one or two questions? Start by just saying “Hello”. Text messages are short sentences that can work well to dialogue. With the brevity of messages, texters are more likely to respond more promptly.
- Video chat. By using a program like Skype or Facetime, long-distance family caregivers and loved ones can chat. With being able to physically see loved ones, long-distance family caregivers can better assess how they are feeling and managing. Group video chats with others joining the conversation from different locations can be arranged.
- Share visits. Asking the sibling who lives closest to Mom and Dad to provide much of the care needed is common, but don’t expect him/her to do so (or wish to do so) always. Have the sibling who visits responsible for keeping the family updated on your loved one’s health. My sisters and I all spent time with our parents individually and reported back. Have an emergency plan in place. Who can best go on short notice?
Technological advances continue to be developed and improved upon to benefit seniors. Gadgets and technology for seniors, including the following, can help a senior have a better quality of life and help a long-distance family caregiver rest easier:
- In-home monitoring systems. Intrusive cameras and 24-hour monitoring can be replaced by sensors. A sensor under a bed sheet tracks a senior’s sleeping patterns. A sensor attached to outside lights provides safety and security. Introduce your senior to Alexa – a digital companion who can perform many tasks and provide a friendly voice to help reduce loneliness.
- Tracking devices for active lifestyles. A FitBit can record activity, measure performance, and track body functions (heart rate, calories burned, etc.). FitBits are easy to wear as they simply slide on over a senior’s wrist.
- Automatic pill dispensers. Seniors may overlook taking their regular medication. Automatic pill dispensers can be used to organize multiple medications, and alert a senior to take a pill. A home caregiver can also help by creating a senior-friendly medication management system.
Create a Local Team
The best long-distance caregiver’s team will include personal and professional contacts. Draft these key people and businesses for your list:
- Your loved one’s doctor. Schedule an appointment when you next visit. Ask for your doctor’s business card, ensure that your name and complete contact information are listed in your loved one’s medical file, clarify treatment recommendations, and share your loved one’s personal history.
- Your loved one’s pharmacist. A pharmacist can also advise on prescribed medications, assemble medication blister packs, and possibly deliver medication.
- Friends and neighbors. Long-distance family caregivers can also reach out to members of their senior’s social circle. A friend can offer to drop in for social visits once or twice a week and share any medical, healthcare, or lifestyle updates with the long-distance family caregiver. If a senior still lives at home, a neighbor could be enlisted to shovel the walks or trim the hedges.
- Local home care companies. Trained caregivers can be there when you can’t be. They can also conduct a home assessment and give you a detailed description of the health and well-being of your loved one. Long-distance family caregivers should have names and numbers of several home care companies to contact if needed.
- A lawyer. Long-distance family caregivers can have questions about handling their parent’s affairs or updating a will. As lawyers can be pricey, try your best to limit your number of calls to their office.
- A financial planner. Long-distance family caregivers will also want to check in regularly with their loved one’s banker/ financial planner. Investment portfolios can be managed remotely. Keep in mind, there are important factors to consider while addressing financial issues with seniors.
- Home cleaning companies. Regular house cleaning can become a chore for seniors. Long-distance family caregivers can arrange for cleaners to stop by regularly to tidy up. Locate a local maintenance company as well that can make any necessary repairs.
Successful Long-Distance Caregiving
Long-distance caregivers provide a vital service to loved ones. It’s important to prioritize brain health and to learn how to sustain emotional health as a caregiver.
Your caring and worrying time can’t be financially calculated. When you feel negative emotions welling up, remind yourself of the good things you are doing to care for a loved one, practice being patient, and be kind to yourself.