Caring for your loved one from a distance can be challenging. Many long-distance caregivers provide emotional support and occasional respite to a primary caregiver who is in the home.
Long-distance caregivers can play a part in arranging for professional caregivers, hiring home health and nursing aides, or locating assisted living and nursing home care. Some long-distance caregivers help a parent pay for care, while others step in to manage finances.
Caregiving is not easy for anyone, not for the caregiver and not for the care recipient. From long distance, it may be hard to feel that what you are doing as a caregiver is enough or is important. But not matter how challenging it is, just remember that whatever you are doing as a caregiver from a distance helps your aging loved one.
Here are some tips to help you care for your aging loved ones from a distance:
1. Know what you need to know as a long-distace caregiver.
Experienced caregivers recommend that you learn as much as you can about your parent’s illness and treatment. This information can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist in disease management as a caregiver. It can also make talking with the doctor easier.
Learn as much as you can about the resources available. Make sure at least one family member has written permission to receive medical and financial information. Try putting together a notebook, or something similar, that includes all the vital information about health care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues, and so on. Make copies for other caregivers.
2. Plan your visits.
When visiting your parent, you may feel that talking to your parent ahead of time and finding out what he or she would like to do may be necessary. This may help you set clear-cut and realistic goals for the visit as a caregiver. For instance, does your mother need to go to the mall, grocery or visit another family member? Could your father use help fixing things around the house? Would you like to talk to your mother’sphysician? Planning these things ahead of time can help you get more things done and feel less stressed by just too much to do in the time that you have. Decide on the priorities and leave other tasks to another visit.
3. Remember to actually spend time visiting with your family member.
Try to make time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver. Maybe you could rent a movie to watch with your parents, or visit with old friends or other family members. Perhaps your aunt or uncle would like to attend worship services. Offer to play a game of cards or a board game. Take a drive, or go to the library together. Finding a little bit of time to do something simple and relaxing can help everyone.
4. Get in touch and stay in touch.
Many families schedule conference calls with doctors, the assisted living facility team, or nursing home staff to get up-to-date information about a parent’s health and progress. If your parent is in a nursing home, you can request occasional teleconferences with the facility’s caregiver staff. Some families schedule conference calls so several relatives can participate in one conversation. Sometimes a social worker is good to talk to for caregiver updates as well as for help in making decisions. The human touch is important too. Try to find people in your parent’s community who can be your eyes and ears and provide a realistic view of what is going on. In some cases, this will be your other parent.
5. Help your parent stay in contact.
For one family, having a private phone line installed in their father’s nursing home room allowed him to stay in touch. For another family, giving the grandmother a cell phone (and then teaching her to use it) gave everyone as long distance caregivers some peace of mind. You can program telephone numbers (such as doctors’, neighbors’, and your own) into your parent’s phone so that he or she can speed-dial contacts. Such simple strategies can be a lifeline for you and your parent. But be prepared, you may find that you are inundated with calls from your parent. It’s good to think in advance about a workable approach for coping with numerous calls.
6. Get a phone book.
Either hardcopy or online, that lists resources in your parent’s neighborhood. Having a copy of the phone book for your parent’s city or town can be really helpful. The “Blue Pages” can provide an easy guide to state and local services available in your parents’ hometown.
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