Many of you know from experience how challenging caregiving can be, even with the logistical convenience of living nearby. Unfortunately, many unpaid caregivers are forced to try and fulfill these responsibilities from many hours or states away, and that distance poses its own significant challenges – not the least of which is the potential emotional toll it can take to live far from someone who needs your help. Staying organized and proactive is key, both in terms of being able to contribute meaningfully and in 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 what ways you can be most helpful before diving in.
- Find out everything you need to know about your loved one’s health status, ideally through a conversation with their physician – but also through medical records and any notes taken.
- Create a contact list of friends, neighbors, doctors, social workers, landlord, pastors – anyone who’s a key contact for mom that 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 info; bills and financial records; list of medications, and pharmacy contact info.
Make the most of each visit when you’re normally long distance.
- Before you head out, touch base 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 Mom or Dad.
- 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 any expired items and making sure Dad has enough healthy food to eat. Look for any safety hazards that need addressing, like poorly-placed rugs; missing handrails, or dim lighting. Make sure Dad has enough help around the house to address seasonal upkeep, like leaf collection or snow plowing.
- Aside from necessary medical appointments, offer to help Mom with personal upkeep, like getting hair and nails done, or buying seasonal items like snow boots.
- Keep a wellness checklist as you go, taking note of any signs that Mom’s needs aren’t being met. Is she eating well? Keeping doctors’ appointments? Paying her bills? Socializing with friends or neighbors? Taking medications properly? Maintaining her home? Keep notes on what you find; this anecdotal information can help you better access subtle changes down the road that might need addressing.
Leverage local contacts and services.
There are lots of ways to keep up with how Dad’s doing when you’re back home, including:
- Schedule regular calls with local contacts who are involved with Dad’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 Dad is signed up and that you have the log-ins to be able to keep tabs on his healthcare information.
- Dad should have more than one way of contacting you; make sure he has both a landline near his bed and a cell phone with your phone number pre-programmed.
For more helpful tips on long distance caregiving, head to the AARP.