When Your Loved One is Far Away: Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving
Being a long-distance caregiver is not easy and presents unique challenges. Although it may at times seem overwhelming or stressful, providing care and support to a family member is one of the most important responsibilities you may have. Being organized and utilizing available resources will help you ensure your loved one gets the best possible care, even when you’re far away.
Below are some common challenges faced by a long-distance caregiver along with some helpful tips to help you overcome those challenges.
Challenge: Managing the health and finances of someone from a distance can be difficult. Ideally, you will be able to talk with your loved one about medical, financial, and legal issues before a situation or crisis occurs. Realistically, however, the opportunity to prepare does not always surface organically.
- Assess your loved one’s needs (emotional, spiritual, physical, social, financial, and health-related).
- If possible, openly discuss advance directives and make sure your loved one has financial and medical powers of attorney as well as general power of attorney in place. These can be touchy topics to bring up but are very important in the event of an emergency. Be sensitive to your loved one’s feelings during these conversations. It’s often helpful to point out that these documents actually ensure that your loved one’s wishes will be carried out if they cannot speak for themselves. Having a will in place will also make it easier for the family. Ultimately, most people find peace-of-mind knowing their family is prepared for any situation.
- If your loved one has an advance directive, keep it someplace visible in their home in the event there is an emergency and you are not there to advise EMS. (The refrigerator and back of the bedroom door are often recommended locations.)
- Make sure that all important documents are gathered and easily accessible, including birth certificate, social security card, bank account information, and insurance documents. You should also make a list of any email or phone passwords as well as digital subscription information.
- Know all health conditions, prescriptions, health care providers’ contact information, and have documentation listing you as a contact person with access to your loved one’s medical information and records. This information should also go on the refrigerator and back of the bedroom door.
Challenge: Household chores, including grocery shopping, preparing meals, house cleaning, and transportation, can become a challenge when the caregiver – and loved one – cannot perform these tasks, as needed.
- Check your loved one’s insurance plan to understand if it covers long-term services, such as a Home Health Aide (HHA) or Personal Care Worker (PCW). If your loved one now needs these services and they are not covered, perhaps consider a new insurance plan.
- Explore food and meal delivery services. There are organizations available throughout the country that provide doorstep delivery of nutritional meals, such as Meals on Wheels. If your loved one has difficulty reaching the doorstep, be sure to have contact information of neighbors who would be willing to help.
- Research and find a reputable light housekeeping service or HHA to help with daily chores. Light housekeeping services often specialize in providing low-cost, simple tasks such as doing dishes or changing linens on an as-needed basis.
- Set up online banking, including direct deposit of checks, when possible, so that your loved one can manage bill payments without leaving home. If your family member cannot manage their own finances, online banking will make it easy for you to manage almost everything remotely.
- Arrange for a reliable source of transportation, for when it’s needed.
- Create a schedule and contact sheet for any helpers or emergency contacts to access. This should include any prescriptions, doctors’ phone numbers, allergies, or other pertinent information, including your contact information.
Challenge: As a long-distance caregiver, you may face some challenges with being able to stay in touch regularly. Today, visiting often can become difficult even for those who are not far from their loved one, especially because of COVID-19 exposure risks.
- Reach out to a trusted person or organization geographically closer to your loved one and develop a care plan. This is especially important if something were to happen at night.
- Use available technology, like video chats, to communicate with your loved one regularly. This is especially important since COVID-19 has made face-to face visits even more challenging for some people. There are several video conferencing resources available at no or low cost. Set up these devices in easily accessible areas so that everyone can stay connected without difficulty.
Challenge: Caregiver stress and burn-out are major concerns due to the increased complications associated with caring for your loved one from afar. The most critical step in being the best caregiver is to care for yourself.
- Practice self-care.
- Take advantage of resources like support groups and local organizations.
- Take time to participate in activities that are rejuvenating to you.
- Accept what you can and cannot do without guilt and know that you are doing the best you can.
- Ask for help when you need it.
You are not alone
With over 110 years of experience caring for at-risk New Yorkers, MJHS Health System in provides a range of programs and services that can help you care for your loved one, whether you live near or far away. To learn more, please browse our patient and family resources.