According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, there are nearly 44 million family caregivers in the United States, 15% of whom live more than an hour away from the care recipient. This represents between 5-7 million caregivers, and that number is only expected to climb in the coming years.
Often, long distance caregivers have careers and families of their own while simultaneously managing care for an aging loved one. It’s common for these family caregivers to feel guilty that they cannot provide a higher level of care or spend more time with their family member, and they also may face some obstacles in regards to finding the resources and local service their loved one needs.
No matter how far away a family caregiver lives, there’s still an opportunity to be helpful and provide quality care. While living far away may prevent some from being the primary caregiver, a long distance caregiver can still provide emotional support or even an occasional break in caregiving duties.
If there are others who live closer to the family member in need of assistance, like a sibling, friend or neighbor, it’s important to coordinate care with that individual. First, define the caregiving duties each are responsible for, and keep in mind that this is best to do before an emergency situation arises.
Although long distance caregivers may not be able to provide daily assistance to their loved one, it’s possible they can offer help with financial tasks, like paying bills and reviewing insurance policies. They may also play an important role in arranging for a higher level of care as it becomes necessary, such as researching in-home health care or locating assisted living communities nearby that may provide respite or ultimately a living option.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when providing caregiving from a distance:
Schedule family meetings with siblings and others involved in the aging loved one’s care where everyone can discuss their feelings, responsibilities and goals. Likewise, staying in touch with the care recipient can help alert caregivers when a higher level of care may be necessary.
When visiting, take advantage of the time together.
Seeing a loved one in person can reveal whether more help is needed on a daily basis. Take note of things like whether they’re managing their appearance, hygiene and household, if the refrigerator and pantry are stocked with healthy foods, if bills are piling up on a kitchen counter, and if they’re still getting out of the house for social activities.
Create a list of contacts and resources.
Being overly prepared can be key to an aging loved one’s overall wellbeing. Assemble lists of nearby friends and neighbors who can be contacted in an emergency, as well the loved one’s primary physicians. Also, organize information like medical records, lists of medications, insurance policies, finances, and legal documents so everything is easily accessible in a crisis situation.
Seek professional help and services when necessary.
It’s important to get help with managing caregiving responsibilities when it becomes clear that aging loved ones need more assistance and health care attention than a family caregiver can provide. Caregivers need to recognize that sometimes, it’s not possible to provide all the help a loved one requires. This is when it’s time to consider a move to an assisted living community, where both seniors and family caregivers have peace of mind that all their needs will be attended to.