Many of you know from experience how challenging caregiving can be, even with the logistical convenience of living nearby. Unfortunately, many unpaid caregivers have no choice but to try and fulfill these responsibilities from a distance, which presents many significant challenges. Staying organized and proactive is critical, both in terms of contributing meaningfully and preventing feelings of helplessness and guilt that can creep in.
Here are some guidelines to think about with long-distance caregiving:
Start with Fact-Finding
- If there’s a primary caregiver in place, ask how you can be most helpful before making any decisions.
- Find out everything you need to know about your loved one’s health status through conversations with their physician and reviewing medical records.
- Create a contact list of friends, neighbors, doctors, social workers, landlords, pastors, and anyone else who is an important contact for your loved one and could be called on or consulted if necessary.
- Collect in a binder all information you would need in a crisis like insurance policies, healthcare proxy information, bills and financial records, a list of medications, and pharmacy contact info.
Make the Most of Each Visit
- Before you arrive, connect with any local caregiver(s) to find out how you can be most helpful. That might include scheduling appointments ahead of time that you’ll attend with your loved one.
- After you arrive, make sure to build in time to go through the mail carefully, looking for any late statements or suspicious solicitations. Inspect the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, weeding out expired items and ensuring your loved one has enough healthy food to eat. Look for any safety hazards that need addressing, like poorly-placed rugs, missing handrails, or dim lighting. Ensure your loved one has enough help around the house to manage seasonal upkeep, like leaf collection or snow plowing.
- Keep a wellness checklist as you go, noting any signs that your loved one’s needs aren’t being met. Keep notes on what you find; this anecdotal information can help you better access subtle changes down the road that might need addressing.
Take Advantage of Local Contacts and Services
- Schedule regular calls with local contacts involved with your loved one’s care and wellbeing, including assisted living staff, social workers, doctors, nursing home staff, and any at-home caregivers. Being proactive about checking in can help you stay informed and feel on top of things, which is a much better way to approach any crisis that might crop up.
- Sign Dad up for the USPS Carrier Alert Program which allows elderly customers to be tracked through a sticker placed on their mailbox. Should a mail carrier notice any clear signs of property neglect, or an unexplained accumulation of mail, they will notify a designated family member.
- Look into the US government’s Eldercare Locator, which helps identify local organizations that provide federally funded support services for the elderly.
- Many doctor’s offices now offer web portals for quick access to appointment information, test results, and doctor’s notes. Make sure your loved one is signed up and that you have the logins to keep tabs on their healthcare information.
While long-distance caregiving may not be an ideal or easy situation, it can be done with a bit of planning and organizing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to delegate whenever needed!