In the US today, as many as seven million people are currently helping to take care of a parent, spouse or friend long distance. About 60% of these caregivers are women.
So what is considered “long-distance caregiving?” When you live over an hour away from the person who needs to be cared for, you are considered a long-distance caregiver. It may seem to you that sometimes you are not all that effective; that you are not there when you are needed most. However, there are many things that you can do to help from far away that are effective and significant to the wellbeing of your loved one.
Here is a list of some of the things you can do to help out:
- Provide emotional support through phone calls or Skype
- Manage financial and insurance matters
- Arrange and monitor in-home care
- Support the primary caregiver
- Hire and monitor professional caregivers
- Create a website for communicating with family and friends
- Plan occasional trips to help with things that need to be fixed around the house, or to spend time with your loved one and give the primary caregiver a break
- Arrange for grocery deliveries
- Organize periodic family meetings (conference calls or Skype) to discuss care
So now you have some idea of what can be accomplished, but you still have some questions about how. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
How do I know when additional support is needed?
You may have to take on the role of detective in order to figure out if additional help is needed. Pay attention during phone conversations. Try to focus the discussion on daily routines such as meal preparation, cleaning, shopping and medical attention. You might be able to determine whether your family member is getting overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for someone. You might be able to discover clues about how hard it is to prepare meals. Those clues will give you ideas about how you can assume responsibility and help even from far away. For example, perhaps dad is struggling with meal preparation and resorts to fast food a lot. You could arrange through his church group, friends and family or hospice volunteers to have meals brought in or prepared in the home for him.
Can I help with financial planning in any way?
Of course! In addition to financial issues, you can take care of all personal information for your loved one. The task of gathering in all may be monstrous, but once you have it all together, you will be able to react to any kind of crisis quickly. Much of this information is online and easy to access. You can be the central hub for things like home ownership, insurance paperwork and legal issues. This will also take the burden off the primary caregiver so they can focus just on the physical and mental aspects of caring.
Should my parents move into an assisted living community?
This is always an emotional decision for people to make. Perhaps your parents have been in their home for 30+ years and are reluctant to leave. However, care and maintenance are impossible for them to keep up with and dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This is a disease that, at some point, will require professionally trained care in order to assure the safety of the patient as well as those living around them.
Sometimes people have negative thoughts about assisted living. Remember, the goal is to make sure your family member is getting the right care, at the right time and that they are living somewhere that is safe and comfortable.
I know my mom only has a few months to live, but I can’t take that much time off work? What do I do?
This is never an easy situation and can be made more difficult because of distance. Hospice care can help ease your conscience and provide outstanding care for your family member. Hospice caregivers are experienced in end of life care and are trained to help by improving the quality of life for your loved one.
Seek emotional support from a clergy, support groups or friends. Make sure you are taking care of yourself through this stressful time.
Contact your parent’s physician to talk about the type of care that is going to be needed. Whether it is in-home or some sort of assisted living, hospice can be there to provide any type of support necessary.
Visit as often as you can. When you can’t be there, send cards and letters. You could set up a computer so you can have actual face time with your family member when you can’t be there in person. Let your loved one know what an important person they have been in your life.
Another helpful organization is The National Institute on Aging. Their website, http://www.nia.nih.gov/health, is a very helpful resource for identifying all kinds of support organization and they have many free publications to help with some of the issues you are facing.