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Long-Distance Caregiving

Lake Winthrop in Holliston
A look across Lake Winthrop in Holliston/Photo by Stephen Corso

While helping to care for a loved one can bring you closer to that person in many ways, not all caregivers are able to be as close physically to their care recipient as they may wish. But even if separated by many miles, caregivers can still provide valuable support and care to their loved ones.

Long-distance caregiving provides its own set of challenges, and there are several things caregivers should consider when helping to care for someone that lives far away.

What can you help with?

While a long-distance caregiver can’t provide the direct hands-on care that someone who lives with or near their care recipient can, there is still plenty a loved one can do from afar.

Long-distance caregivers can:

  • Help coordinate services, such as arranging for home care, housing options, medical appointments and meal deliveries.
  • Organize and manage appointments, bills and records.
  • Review health insurance policies for adequate coverage. Change or update coverage if necessary.
  • Create a care network, coordinating care with relatives, friends and others involved.
  • Research the local resources available to your care recipient and set up services needed. If they live in MetroWest, check out what is available in their town or throughout the region. Also investigate what government programs and benefits they may qualify for.
  • Find out more about your loved one’s conditions and treatment options. Information on many diseases and health conditions can be found in our Health Conditions section.
  • Provide emotional support for both your care recipient and other caregivers, particularly if there is a family member or friend serving as the primary caregiver and dealing with the demands of directly caring for the person.
  • Get support for yourself. Do not neglect your own needs. Pay attention to your own health and make sure to get sleep, exercise and follow a proper diet, as you cannot provide proper care if you are not taking care of yourself.

Assess the situation

Like all caregivers, long-distance caregivers need to understand the issues their loved ones are facing and what level of care they will require. That can be more challenging when you don’t live with or near the care recipient, but a proper appraisal of the situation is still necessary.

Some of the things to determine include:

  • Are they taking adequate care of themselves (dressing, bathing, eating proper meals, taking medications, etc.)?
  • Are they able to clean and maintain their home, shop for groceries, do laundry, and keep up with other chores?
  • Can they operate the stove/oven and other devices or appliances that could create safety issues?
  • Are they able to move freely and safely around their home? Are there any safety issues around the home (loose rugs, clutter, loose or missing interior and exterior railings, inadequate lighting, slippery surfaces, exposed power cords, etc.)? Are grab bars needed in the bathroom or other home areas? If worn, do eyeglasses need updating?
  • Is their clothing adequate and in good condition?
  • Are they making sound decisions?
  • Are they having any problems managing their finances?
  • Do they still drive? And if so, are they having any issues driving? If they do not drive, how can they be transported to outings, medical appointments, stores, etc.
  • Is their home secure with adequate locks? Is the structure sound and without plumbing, heating/cooling issues? Are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors present and in working order?
  • Is there a cordless phone that can be used call service or emergency personnel while observing the situation?
  • Are there basic medical supplies available? (e.g. band aids, ointments, cough/cold remedies, etc.)
  • Is there a service in place to clear snow, clean gutters, and other exterior home requirements, as needed?
  • Are there other family members or friends who live nearby who can be the primary caregiver?
  • Are there local service or other organizations that can help with care or transportation (e.g. rotary club, religious, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or other military-related organizations)? Contact the town offices to inquire about support services offered by the town or regional area.
  • Does the town have a service to check in on the elderly during times of crises? If so, register your loved one.
  • Do you need to hire professional help, such as a home health aide or a geriatric care manager to coordinate care and oversee the situation?
  • If it is a situation of gradual deterioration and the care recipient speaks to you on the phone, gently probe for clues about the person’s health and ability to live independently.
  • Can they handle a crisis (e.g. power outage, furnace failure, major storm, fire, broken water pipe, medical emergency)? Is there a ready supply of flashlights, batteries, food, and other supplies set aside and easily accessible?
  • Do they know who to call for help (it should be more than one contact)? Do they have problems navigating voicemail and the like. Will they make the call?
  • If there has been a crisis, talk to a physician, nurse practitioner or social worker to get a more thorough read on the care recipient’s needs.

Check in regularly

Communication is vital. Maintaining contact through phone calls and emails can help detect any developing issues or problems to be addressed. Video calling through a service such as Skype can be an even better way to stay connected if you and your care recipient have the ability to access such technology. Regardless of the method of communications, making regular contact, perhaps with a scheduled daily or weekly time set up in advance, is essential.

Visit when possible

Technology can keep us connected, but nothing beats being there in person. That isn’t always possible, but visiting when you can does make a difference.

Here are some things you can focus on accomplishing when you visit:

  • Use your visit to assess your loved one’s needs.
  • Accompany your loved one on medical appointments, meet with doctors and other care providers to discuss any issues with care, changes in condition and treatment process. Ensure they have your contact information and let them know in what circumstances you want to be immediately contacted.
  • Make copies of any important documents you may need and record any prescriptions, doctors’ names, insurance information, etc. It may also be necessary to meet with an elder law attorney to make arrangements for a health care proxy, health care power of attorney, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or other documents.
  • Create contact list with numbers for doctors, emergency services, care providers, neighbors, etc.
  • Prepare a sealed package of information for emergency personnel. Post it in an obvious place and tell local helpers it’s there. Be sure to update it if any changes are needed.
  • Install a small bulletin board to post relevant information for your caregiving efforts.
  • Install a small white board for your loved one to note their needs, or for you to note reminders for them.
  • Consider putting a combination-based lockbox containing a key outside the home entrance for use by emergency personnel or local caregivers. This can be invaluable in times of crises.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to help with any errands or chores, helping with work around the house, shopping, hair appointments, etc.
  • Enjoy the visit. While time is limited and there is no shortage of things you want to accomplish while with your loved one, don’t forget to spend some quality time with them and enjoy each other’s company.

When you cannot visit or for the time between visits, see if there is anyone else that can check in regularly in person with your loved one. Are there other relatives that live close by? Or friends or neighbors who could stop by to make sure things are OK?

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BayPath Elder Services, Inc

Caregiving MetroWest is a no-cost program of BayPath Elder Services, Inc.

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Caregiving MetroWest was made possible in part by grants from the MetroWest Health Foundation.