Long Distance Caregiving

Caring for a loved one can be a time of great connection. It can be a chance for honesty and communication, and a time for you and the one you are caring for to show love toward each other in a way you might not have been able to otherwise. Long-distance caregiving, while challenging at times, can also bring joy and personal growth.

Common questions when caring from afar

Concerns can arise when you're long-distance caregiving. You're not alone if you find yourself regularly asking these questions:

  • Is my loved one making it to her doctor’s appointments?

  • Is she taking her morning medication at the right time?

  • Does she have all the incontinence care products and supplies she needs?

  • Is she safe in her daily environment?

Fortunately, with these tips and today's technology, long-distance caregiving can be accommodating and gratifying. Here, we'll explore the ways long-distance caregiving is not only achievable but rewarding for you and your loved one.

Reach out and stay connected to your loved one.

  • Check in regularly

    When is the last time you saw your loved one? When possible, regular in-person visits and check-ins are a key aspect of knowing what your loved one's physical, emotional and financial needs are. When visits cannot happen as often as you would like, there are plenty of ways to connect virtually, as discussed further on in this section.

  • Establish a local network of contacts you can reach

    If the distance is great, organize visits from neighbors, church members, or friends and family on a regular basis, with a follow-up to see how Mom is doing. Professional caregivers can also be a great resource for care and companionship when extra support is needed (see section later in this article for tips about partnering with professional caregivers). Have contacts who are able to provide a ride to your loved one if needed, or have a preferred taxi or car service identified in case a ride is needed in a pinch.

Use smart devices and technologies to stay connected. There are more ways than ever to use technology to communicate with friends and family all over the globe. Find the options that work for you and your loved one:

  • Mobile phones

    Knowing that a cell phone is handy when a landline may be out of reach can bring peace of mind. If Mom is hesitant about getting a mobile phone, finding a basic phone with a simple interface might be a good way to introduce her to the technology. Helpful modifications include voice-activated commands, larger buttons, and compatibility with hearing aids. If your loved one has a cell phone, make sure that it is programmed with important numbers and that she knows how to use it. Some carriers have free online or in-store tutorials and lower-cost calling plans for seniors who use the phone only for emergencies.

  • Video chat

    Video calling is a great way to communicate from afar and allows you to see each other on a computer, tablet, or smart phone screen. Skype and Apple FaceTime are two examples of video chat apps. The choice of app depends on the types of devices that you and your loved one have. Interacting on screen can allow you to see in real time how your loved one is doing and can foster deeper connection than a conversation by phone.

  • Tablet computers

    These Wi-Fi enabled touch-screen computers are great for seniors who would like to be online and stay connected, from the comfort of their favorite chair, with friends and family via social media, email, or video chat. There are many options to choose from, at several price levels, and there are lots of great apps and games that can keep Mom’s mind sharp and remind her to take her medications, to boot.

  • Health and emergency monitoring systems

    On the cutting edge of technology are wearable devices that can track health indicators such as blood pressure, sleep, and heart rate. This data can be shared in real time with a caregiver or health care provider. Other devices use hands-free, wireless technology to connect users with medical services or other emergency contacts. Monitoring systems are simpler and more user-friendly than ever and can provide both generations with peace of mind.

Define and coordinate responsibilities and communications. As a caregiver from a distance, you have to manage many moving parts. Knowing who will do what and when is key to keeping it all running smoothly. Using an online calendar that several parties can edit can be helpful in coordinating communications and activities such as regular phone calls and visits among family, friends, and professional caregivers. Other online tools can help organize tasks and identify a responsible party. Automate tasks whenever possible! Mail-order medication services can automatically re-fill and send prescriptions. Subscription services can ship personal care products such as incontinence supplies on a predetermined schedule so that your loved one is never without the products that she needs.

Do your homework!

Researching and getting organized are important first steps toward fearless, gratifying long-distance care.

  1. Identify and use local resources

    Learn what types of support services are available in your loved one’s community. The local elder services agency is a good place to start. Here you may find a range of services to support you and your loved one, including transportation, meals and help with chores.

  2. Have important information handy.

    Gather contact information for health care providers, pharmacists, friends and neighbors and any additional caregivers. Have important legal and financial documents organized.

  1. Ask the same questions of different people.

    For example, do you know what causes incontinence and leakage for your loved one? When caring from a distance, asking your loved one's spouse, friends, neighbors, caregiver or anyone who sees her often is a good way to learn her patterns. This can help you find the right incontinence care to help your loved one live confidently throughout the day.

  2. Know your product options.

    There is the right product for whatever your loved one needs to live fearlessly. Get educated about incontinence supplies so you can offer and order for your loved one as needed.

  3. Re-assess needs regularly.

    The needs of your loved one will change over time, and care and support may need to be adjusted as you go. You can assess your loved one’s situation when visiting her or by checking in with other caregivers as needed. Being flexible and ready for change is key!

Gaining knowledge will not only help you get the right care, tools and supplies for your loved one but will also relieve you of some of the worry and stress of the unknown. Being prepared is a key part of helping you and your loved one live each day without letting anything get in the way.

Addressing your loved one’s needs from afar

There are many ways to understand and attend to your loved one's daily needs from afar. These include all the products and items one would need to properly care for his or her health and hygiene. One out of every three caregivers does not live with the person they are caring for — this means lots of thought is needed to make sure supplies are always on hand for every situation, such as products for the unexpected leak. Thanks to the Internet and multiple types of delivery services, however, you can make sure medical supplies are shipped directly to your loved one as often as necessary.

Planning ahead is vital to properly address your loved one's needs, but when something is forgotten, don't worry. Discreet and online delivery. Even overnight is possible with incontinence products and most medical supplies. There are also wake-up, reminder and appointment call services to make sure your loved one is taking her medication at the right time or waking up for an appointment. All of these tools can help you feel confident and in charge of your caregiving duties from a distance.

Is everyone getting the emotional support they need?

It's important to make sure your loved one is getting the physical things she needs, but it's also important that her emotional needs are met. And you need to feel happy and connected too, even from afar. Through your computer or phone, set up weekly or even semiweekly video chats. Face-to-face contact, even through a device, can help you actually see how someone is doing.

What if you aren't alone in your caregiving duties? There are several ways to coordinate care.
  • As mentioned earlier, set up an online calendar you can all use to coordinate responsibilities. Set up video chats to discuss plans and make sure nothing is forgotten. Google provides an online calendar service that is easily shared.

  • Set up a social media site on a website such as Lotsa Helping Hands or Facebook to share ideas, stories and pictures of your loved one. If the person you are caring for is tech savvy, get them involved too. The Internet is a great tool to use to help everyone feel emotionally connected, even from a great distance.

Always have a plan for your loved one, and for you!

Make sure you know what to do in an emergency situation. No one likes to feel out of control, and if your loved one falls, has an emergency medical situation or just has an accident, you need to have a plan in place.

  • Have a list of contact numbers, including the nearest hospitals, a friend or a neighbor close by and all important medical professionals. If your loved one is at a senior care facility, make sure you maintain close rapport with the staff there. Your list of contacts should include people who can help with your duties, should you need to leave suddenly to tend to your loved one. Have friends or neighbors on hand who can pick up and watch young children, for example. Speak with them regularly, not just in the event of an emergency.

  • Emphasize the need to call and check in for every situation, even daily bladder accidents. Do you have a friend or neighbor who can help your loved one if they have dropped a plate and need assistance in cleaning up, or if they unexpectedly need help after bladder leakage? Having someone close by to aid with little accidents is important.

  • Be open and honest about your caregiving situation at work. If you have a job that is not very flexible, mention several times to your boss or superior that you are caring for a loved one from afar. That way, if an emergency happens and you have to be with your loved one, a line of communication is already open. While it might be difficult to leave work, at least it will not be surprising to anyone why you need to leave suddenly.

Having a plan will put you at ease and take the guesswork out of any emergency situation, whether big or small.

Partner with local professional caregivers

There may come a time when your loved one needs a little extra help if local friends and family are not able to lend a hand. Professional caregivers can fulfill that need and provide you with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a skilled person is available at a moment’s notice. Ask friends or family for recommendations, or contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information on caregiver services. A range of services can be provided by a professional agency, including care companionship, personal care assistance, respite care and live-in care. If possible, contact at least two agencies to compare and find the one that is the best fit for your loved one.

Take the stress out of caregiving

Always know you are not alone. Caring from afar is common, and there are several ways to stay connected and reduce stress during this time. Making sure physical needs are met, emotional needs are taken care of and a plan is in place are great ways to help you feel prepared and comfortable with your situation. Being a caregiver — whether at home or from afar — is a time of great reward for you and your loved one.

Don't let the tasks overwhelm you; there are ways to make every situation a little easier. And also know that when the situation does become overwhelming, the internet can be a great resource. Online websites can help you become more educated about caregiving and connect with other caregivers, providing a perfect outlet for your fears and a way to talk about what you're going through with sympathetic listeners.

Take the right steps now so that you and your loved one can enjoy each moment of the caregiving process.


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