Caring for a friend, parent, or other relative who lives far away? If you live an hour or more away, you’re a long-distance caregiver.
You may be arranging care or helping with bills and paperwork. You could be communicating with health care providers. And you’re probably an important source of emotional support for your friend or relative. Doing all this from afar can be challenging.
There are things you can do to make long-distance caregiving more manageable. Start by learning as much as you can about your loved one’s health and treatments. This can help you understand his or her health needs and anticipate those in the future.
Organize important paperwork. That way it’s all in one place and up to date. Also, make sure at least one caregiver has written permission to receive medical and financial information. If possible, one person should handle conversations with all health care providers.
You might also consider caregiving training. Some local chapters of the American Red Cross and other not-for-profit organizations offer caregiving courses.
If you’re in a long-distance caregiving role, keep these additional things in mind:
Plan your visits. When visiting your loved one, you may feel there is just too much to do in the time you have. You can get more done and feel less stressed by talking to your family member or friend ahead of time and finding out what he or she would like to do. Also, check with the primary caregiver, if appropriate, to learn what he or she needs, such as handling some caregiving responsibilities while you are in town. This may help you set clear-cut and realistic goals for the visit. For instance, does your mother need to get new winter clothes or visit another family member? Could your father use help fixing things around the house? Would you like to talk to your mother’s physician? Decide on the priorities and leave other tasks for another visit.
Incorporate fun. Try to make time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver. Maybe you could find a movie to watch with your relative, or plan a visit with old friends or other family members. Perhaps they would like to attend worship services. Offer to play a game of cards or a board game. Take a drive, or go to the library together. Finding a little bit of time to do something simple and relaxing can help everyone, and it builds more family memories. And keep in mind that your friend or relative is the focus of your trip—try to let outside distractions wait until you are home again.
Communicate with the team. Many families schedule conference calls with doctors, the assisted living facility team or nursing home staff so several relatives can participate in one conversation and get up-to-date information about a relative’s health and progress. If your family member is in a nursing home, you can request occasional teleconferences with the facility’s staff. Sometimes a social worker is good to talk to for updates as well as for help in making decisions. You might also talk with a family member or friend in the community who can provide a realistic view of what is going on. In some cases, this will be your other parent. Don’t underestimate the value of a phone and email contact list. It is a simple way to keep everyone updated on your parents’ needs.
Stay in touch. Install a private phone in your father’s nursing home room to allow him to stay in touch with you. Give your aunt a cell phone (and teach her how to use it). These simple strategies can be a lifeline. Don’t panic if you find you are inundated with calls and text messages. It’s good to think in advance about a workable approach for coping with numerous calls.