5 Long-Distance Caregiving Tips for When You Live Miles Apart from Your Loved One
Long-distance caregiving is becoming increasingly common. A 2006 survey conducted by the National Council on Aging found that between 5-7 million Americans provided long-distance care. That same study predicted that the number of long-distance caregivers would double to between 10-14 million by late 2020.
The number of long-distance caregivers may be even greater now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because seniors are considered high risk, families have had to socially distance and limit visits in order to keep their loved ones safe.
If you’re unable to visit a loved one who needs assistance with doctor’s appointments, medication management, or day-to-day care, it’s normal to feel frustrated and even guilty. But there are still ways you can contribute, whether you’re located dozens of miles or even states away.
To help make long-distance caregiving easier, we’ve collected a list of tips, tricks, and recommendations. You can use this information to develop a comprehensive care plan that improves your loved one’s quality of life while providing you with peace of mind.
Tip 1: Collect the necessary documentation
Before you can provide high-quality care from afar, it’s important to get everything set up. Make time to visit in person or schedule a long-distance meeting via Zoom or Facetime to discuss your loved one’s needs with family and friends. During this meeting, gather the following information:
Medical paperwork. Is your loved one living with a chronic condition like dementia or arthritis? If so, make sure you have access to their medical records, including physician names and contact information, a list of the medications they regularly take, their health insurance policy, and a list of any upcoming appointments or procedures. By compiling all of this information, you’ll have a better idea of your loved one’s current health and needs.
Financial paperwork. The natural aging process can make it difficult to remember monthly bills and other financial responsibilities.
If your loved one is relatively healthy, and can write checks or use an ATM, consider adding your name to their bank account. That way, if they suffer an accident or fall ill, you can continue paying their bills or making deposits.
If your loved one has a chronic condition that’s expected to worsen, consider meeting with a lawyer to draft a Power of Attorney. This all-encompassing legal document gives you permission to act on their behalf in legal and financial matters.
Other important documents. Other important paperwork you’ll need to access include advance directives, a living will, healthcare power of attorney, and your loved one’s birth certificate and social security card. Once you collect these items, put them in a folder someplace safe that’s easily accessible.
Tip 2: Do your homework
If you live hundreds of miles away, you’re probably unable to attend doctor’s appointments in person. Even so, it’s important to study up on your loved one’s diagnoses so that long-distance caregiving doesn’t turn into out-of-touch caregiving. The more you know about a particular disease or disorder, the easier it is to predict its course, ask informed questions, and remain involved in your senior’s care.
Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to do your homework. Websites like Mayo Clinic, Healthline, and Medical News Today provide in-depth articles on various age-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, dysphagia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Setting aside some time each week to do your homework can help you feel more informed and connected.
Tip 3: Long-Distance Caregiving doesn’t mean you can’t establish boots on the ground
You can only do so much from a distance, so it’s critical to have a team of friends, family, or community members who can serve as an extension on the ground. Consider all areas of life in which your loved one might need assistance:
Daily hygiene. Tasks like bathing, flossing, or getting dressed become more difficult with age. They’re even more so if your senior has arthritis, osteoporosis, or another similar condition that affects their joints, bones, or mobility.
Meals and snacks. Elderly individuals are more likely than their younger counterparts to lose weight. Though you might not be able to cook for them in person, your senior still needs access to healthy snacks and meals. If they don’t consume enough vitamins, nutrients, and calories it can affect their energy levels, health, and quality of life.
If your loved one is still mobile and able to prepare food, consider having groceries or meal boxes delivered to their door. If they’re wheelchair-bound or bedridden, a program like Meals on Wheels can deliver healthy, pre-cooked meals at certain intervals throughout the week.
Landscaping and maintenance. Does your loved one still live at home? If so, do they have a lawn, sidewalks, or a driveway that require maintenance? Outdoor activities like mowing, cleaning the gutters, or shoveling snow can increase the risk of a slip and fall. To help prevent these or other injuries, consider hiring a professional landscaper or someone in the neighborhood to assist.
Transportation. More than 600,000 Americans aged 70 and older rely on others for transportation. If your senior is no longer able to drive, they might also skip important medical appointments or trips to the grocery store.
Depending on where your loved one lives, public transportation like the bus or light rail may be an option. If they’re on Medicaid, they can receive non-emergency medical transportation at no cost. Other transportation options include taxis or rides from friends and family. Some medical providers even offer in-home visits, preventing the need for transportation altogether.
Collect and share contact information. By assigning specific individuals to handle these and other daily tasks, you can be sure your loved one has the assistance they need, exactly when they need it. Once you determine who is going to do what, create a list with everyone’s names and contact information. Make copies and distribute it to everyone playing an active role in your loved one’s care.
Tip 4: Sign up for Carewell Autoship
One of the easiest ways to give your loved one access to everything they need while you are long-distance caregiving is by signing them up for our Autoship program. Autoship allows you to select one (or multiple) products and request repeat deliveries on an ongoing basis, whenever is most convenient.
At Carewell, we carry a wide variety of products specifically tailored to seniors, including items for daily living, personal care, and healthcare; incontinence products; medical supplies such as catheters, bandages, and nebulizers; household items like cleaning and paper products; and nutritional supplies, including drinks, shakes, pureed meals, and food and drink thickeners.
Signing up for Autoship is easy and hassle-free. Simply select the products your loved one needs, add them to your cart, and click the “create subscription” button. If you have any questions or need help selecting products, contact our friendly Care Team at any time. Call (855) 855-1666 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip 5: Stay in touch
Once you’ve established the necessary framework for long-distance caregiving, it’s important to keep tabs on everything going on. You don’t want to micromanage or come off as pushy, but you do need to stay in touch.
If your senior is relatively mobile and able to care for themselves, make a phone call several times a week. If they’re technologically savvy and use a computer or smartphone, send an email or check-in via Skype or Zoom.
For those who are wheelchair-bound, bedridden, or living with dementia, you might need to check in with friends, family, or a professional caregiver. When you do, discuss important topics like medication adherence, appetite, and any changes that might be cause for concern. Use the information provided to adjust your long-distance care plan as necessary.
Long-distance caregiving is challenging, but with a bit of planning and teamwork, it’s possible to provide your senior with the love and attention they need. Be patient and realize challenges will arise. With a good attitude and a willingness to adapt, you’ll master the art in no time.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.