Long-distance caregiving isn’t always ideal, but it’s often essential. If you have aging parents or other family members in another state, and you can’t afford the costs of home health services or nursing homes, you may feel responsible for them.
The good news is that you’re not alone. It is estimated that up to 15% of caregivers are long-distance, living an average of nearly 500 miles away. In this guide, we’ll look at some tips and strategies to help you meet the long-term care needs of your loved one while living hundreds of miles away.
Long Distance Caregiving Tips
You can’t assume the role of a home caregiver. It’s not feasible for you to make regular trips to your loved one’s home. So, what can long-distance caregivers do?
Analyze, Evaluate, and Prepare
You can’t do everything, and no one expects you to. You may feel obliged, especially if you’re caring for a single parent, but if you try to do too much you’ll only cause problems for yourself and your loved one. It’s important to be honest with yourself. Speak with other family members and friends, if available, and try to understand what you can do and how they can help.
If you’re good with finances, you can help them manage their money, pay their bills, buy their groceries, etc. If you’re better suited for an emotional support role, you can maintain contact via regular phone calls.
Share the caregiving responsibilities between your siblings and other family members. The primary caregiver can be the one who lives nearest, has the most free time, or is experienced at providing care for older adults. Everyone else can assume supportive roles.
Regular family meetings can also help to keep everyone on track and make sure no one is suffering from caregiver stress. Schedule a regular time every 2 or 4 weeks and get together for conference calls using apps like Skype and Facetime.
Consider a Move
When you have a family meeting and realize that long-distance care won’t work, no matter how many changes you make, it’s time to consider a move.
You can move closer to the care recipient or you can bring them closer to you. Do they own their own home? If so, consider getting them to sell it and moving them into a home closer to you. If you live alone and don’t have children to care for, consider moving them into your home. If you’re a freelancer or you’re unemployed, it could be better to move into their house.
It’s a move that both caregivers and care recipients will be reluctant to make. The former doesn’t want to lose their independence and freedom, while the latter may worry about moving away from their home and their community. Regardless, it could be the only way to provide necessary health care services.
Alternatively, you can look into senior living communities. There, your loved one will receive help with activities for daily living and home care services, while always being within reach of essential medical care. Your loved one will also be part of a community and can benefit from regular social interaction.
Get your Documents in Order
Does the primary caregiver have Power of Attorney, do you have an emergency plan prepared, and do all family caregivers have contact information of local support services, emergency services, and other essential info?
You need to be prepared if something goes wrong, whether that means contacting a neighbor to check on your loved one’s well-being, speaking with a social worker, or contacting a doctor.
It’s also important to have an emergency plan in place. What happens when your loved one suffers from a fall or another serious medical episode? They may need someone to stay with them for a few days or weeks, which means you’ll have to drop everything and live with them temporarily.
Plan for this moment by speaking with friends, family, and neighbors, and make sure they can look after your kids and your pets at the drop of a hat. Prepare some emergency supplies to grab and go when needed, and check that your employer is prepared for these kinds of situations.
Make Occasional Visits
Speak with family members and loved ones to arrange regular visits to the care recipient’s home. This will allow you to keep a close watch on their emotional and physical health while checking for any serious signs of distress or concern. Keep an eye out for anything that suggests the current setup is not working and that something needs to change.
Are they struggling to clean for themselves and cook for themselves? If so, you can always simply arrange for cleaners and meal delivery services. If they’re suffering from regular trips and falls and they seem disorientated, though, it might be time to consider a home care service, assisted living facility, or another dedicated senior care option.
Extensive home modifications can be expensive, but it’s often cheaper to modify an entire home than it is to stay in the average assisted living facility for a year. Walk-in bathtubs are available for around $5,000, grabrails and handrails can be fitted for a few hundred dollars, and anti-slip mats provide a cheap solution to reduce risk.
Adjustable beds, lift chairs, mobility scooters, power chairs, and even vehicle adjustments can also make your loved one’s life easier and allow them to retain their independence while living freely and safely.
The safer they are in their own home and the more things they can do by themselves, the less care you need to provide.
Use all Available Resources
Last but not least, there are a lot of resources out there that can assist you with long distance caring. They can educate you and even take some of the stress and responsibilities away from you.
Look into respite care, which can temporarily care for your loved one and allow you to take a break. Check local resources, including support groups relating to your loved one’s specific health issues, such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc., and take a look at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Even if you don’t have extensive care plans and immediate financial support, help is still available, and it can make your situation much more manageable.