If you live an hour or more away from a loved one who needs care, you might wonder what you can do to help. Start by understanding options for long-distance caregiving, ranging from coordinating services to providing respite for a primary caregiver.
What is long-distance caregiving?
Long-distance caregiving can take many forms. From afar, you might:
- Provide emotional support to a primary caregiver
- Coordinate services for a loved one, such as arranging for household help or in-home care, and follow up to make sure there are no problems
- Manage a loved one's medical bills or records
- Make yourself available for medical visits
You might also arrange to stay with your loved one while his or her primary caregiver takes time off or goes on vacation.
How can I keep on top of my loved one's care from long distance?
You can take many steps to be an effective long-distance caregiver. For example:
Schedule a family meeting. Gather family and friends involved in your loved one's care in person, by phone, or by video chat. Discuss your goals, air feelings, and divide up duties. Appoint someone to summarize the decisions made and distribute notes after the meeting. Be sure to include the loved one in need of care in the decision-making process.
Get organized. Compile notes about your loved one's medical condition and any legal or financial issues. Include contact numbers, insurance information, account numbers, and other important details.
Research your loved one's illness and treatment. This will help you understand what your loved one is going through, the course of the illness, what you can do to prevent crises and how to assist with disease management. It might also make it easier to talk to your loved one's doctors.
Keep in touch with your loved one's providers. In coordination with your loved one and his or her other caregivers, schedule conference calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in your loved one's health. Be sure to have your loved one sign a release allowing the doctor to discuss medical issues with you—and keep a backup copy in your files.
You may also be able to log into your loved one's medical records online to see test results, medications, after-visit summaries, and more. Medical office staff members can tell you if they offer electronic medical records and how to request permission.
Bear in mind that your loved one will make final health care decisions unless he or she has named a medical power of attorney. This is a type of advance directive—written, legal instructions regarding preferences for medical care. A medical power of attorney (health care proxy) makes health care decisions when a patient cannot.
Ask your loved one's friends for help. Stay in touch with your loved one's friends and neighbors. Ask your loved one who he or she would prefer to come around on a regular basis, and ask those people to regularly check in on your loved one. They might be able to help you understand what's going on with your loved one on a daily basis.
Seek professional help. If necessary, hire someone to help with meals, personal care, and other needs. A geriatric care manager or social worker also might be helpful in organizing your loved one's care. Contact your Area Agency on Aging for help finding local resources.
Plan for emergencies. Set aside time and money in case you need to make unexpected visits to help your loved one. Consider inquiring about taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Stay in touch. Try sending your loved one digital movies of yourself. Send cards. Set a time each day or week for phone calls or video chats with your loved one.
How can I make the most of visits with my loved one?
Careful planning can help you effectively use your time with your loved one. For example:
- Find out what your loved one needs. Before visiting your loved one, talk to him or her about what tasks you might be able to assist with during your trip. Does your loved one need to go shopping, or is there something at the house that needs to be fixed?
- Schedule appointments. Ask your loved one if you can accompany him or her on a doctor's appointment during your visit. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your loved one's health, medications, and any other questions you might have. Take notes on the doctor's recommendations. Ask the doctor to suggest any helpful community resources. Consider making appointments with your loved one's lawyer and financial adviser, too.
- Look for signs of problems. During your visit, check to see how well your loved one is managing daily tasks. Is your loved one able to drive safely, eat regular meals, keep up with personal grooming, and pay his or her bills? Is your loved one taking medications as prescribed? Ask your loved one's friends and neighbors if they've noticed any behavioral changes, health problems or safety issues.
- Set aside quality time. Ask your loved one about simple activities that he or she enjoys most, and do those things together. You might watch a movie, play cards, or take your loved one to visit friends or family—find out what your loved one wants to do, and do that.
I feel guilty that I'm not there enough for my loved one. What can I do?
Many long-distance caregivers feel guilty about not being able to do enough or spend adequate time with a family member in need of care. If you're feeling guilty, remind yourself that you're doing the best you can. It might be helpful to join a support group for caregivers. You might benefit from the tips of others as well as the knowledge that you're not alone.
Publication Date: 2010-07-09