When a family caregiver lives an hour or more away from the senior they are caring for, they are considered a long-distance caregiver. While caregiving can be a demanding role no matter where you live, long-distance caregivers face unique challenges.
Here are a few:
- Not being present: Distance makes it difficult for family members to personally evaluate a loved one’s well-being on a routine basis. Not being able to see a loved one regularly or assess the condition of their home puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to intervening before small problems become more serious ones.
- Travel time: Being separated also makes it tougher for a long-distance caregiver to respond quickly in the event of a health crisis. If the senior experiences a medical issue, it can take some time for a family caregiver to arrive on the scene.
- Expenses: Long-distance caregivers are often unprepared for the travel costs they will incur. Frequent travel expenses combined with unpaid time off work can make it tough to manage the financial costs of long-distance caregiving.
The good news, however, is there are steps families can take to make it easier to care for a loved one from miles away.
Seven Ways to Make Long-Distance Caregiving Go More Smoothly
- Get organized: An organized caregiver will likely be more effective and less stressed. Both make everyday life better for the caregiver and the care recipient. Getting organized typically begins with creating a system for managing healthcare information. This includes medical history, a medication list, local family members’ contact information, physician contacts, pharmacies, allergies, and an appointment schedule. A binder divided into sections works best for some, while other families find apps such as CareZone and My Medical to be a better solution.
- Learn more: Caring from a distance requires planning for a senior’s current needs and for changes they are likely to experience on the road ahead. Take time to better understand your loved one’s health concerns, medications, and what to expect as a chronic disease or newly diagnosed medical condition advances.
- Local support: It also helps to build a local support network. If you don’t already know them, take time to meet your loved one’s friends, neighbors, and healthcare providers. Be sure to give each of them your contact information and ask for theirs. They may be able to act as your eyes and ears when you can’t be there in person.
- Seek professional help: It might help your senior loved one maintain their independence longer if you hire professionals to assist with daily tasks such as meal planning, food preparation, grocery shopping, and housekeeping. Long-distance caregivers often find it helpful to employ a local Aging Life Care Professional (formerly known as Professional Geriatric Care Managers) near their senior loved one. The care manager can help provide oversight for in-home caregivers you hire, as well as attend physician appointments, oversee medication compliance, and more.
- Stay in touch: Technology makes it easier to keep in touch with a senior loved one who lives far away. Skype and other video chat platforms allow families to talk “face-to-face.” This provides long-distance caregivers with an opportunity to evaluate their loved one’s appearance and, to some degree, the condition of their home environment. These platforms are simple to set up and use, especially on a tablet.
- Make the most of personal visits: When you visit your faraway family member, plan ahead so you can make the most of your time together. Create a list of tasks you need to accomplish, such as home repairs, a physician appointment, and stocking the freezer with healthy meals. Also make time to assess the house for safety concerns and identify any potential hazards that need to be addressed.
Our final suggestion is to take time to explore senior living communities near your loved one’s home. Many communities offer short-term stay programs, known as respite care, should the need arise.
Respite care can help if your loved one has been hospitalized and needs a little extra support before transitioning back home. It’s also a good way for your senior loved one to get to know a community and decide if they’d like to make a permanent move.
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