Programs at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How to Manage Long-Distance Caregiving

There’s only one thing more difficult than becoming the primary caregiver for a parent, grandparent or elderly friend whose health has begun to deteriorate: becoming a caregiver from a long distance. The stresses of caregiving and the sadness associated with your elder’s declining health can be compounded by guilty feelings that you should be there, or you’re just not doing enough. But rest assured, there are plenty of valuable ways you can help with elder care from far away without carrying a heavy burden of guilt.

From a distance, you’re still able to be a source of strength and emotional support. You can help your elder and other family members by helping to coordinate in-home care services and maintain contact with paid caregivers to ensure your elder’s life is running smoothly. You can help manage finances and medical records. And whenever possible, you can make visits to give other caregivers a rest and spend some time with your loved one. Here are few guidelines to help you get started:

Assembling the team

Not even live-in caregivers can handle everything on their own. Don’t allow yourself to feel embarrassed simply because you’re asking for help. The more loving, caring people there are involved in your elder’s life, the better. Start building your caregiving team with your closest family members, and call them together for a meeting. Technology has made it possible to meet online — Skype, which is a completely free service for video calling, will support group calling for groups as large as nine. So don’t stress if everyone can’t be in the same place at the same time.

Call the first family meeting without your elder present. This will allow everyone to voice their concerns, outline the things they are willing and able to do, and speak freely about their fears. Make some initial decisions about who will take responsibility for which tasks. If you are able to take notes

during this meeting (a very good idea), write a brief email reviewing any agreements you’ve made together, and send it to every family member who attended the meeting.

Then, have a second meeting that includes your parent or grandparent. It’s very common for elders to feel defensive in these situations, so be gentle and proceed cautiously. Ask your elder what tasks they need help with currently, and start there. The whole caregiving team should respect the independence and happiness of your elder as much as possible. If you need to defer some of your plans for a while, do so. Then put whatever part of your team’s plan your elder agrees to into action immediately.

Helping with paperwork and additional resources

As a distant caregiver, you may find that the biggest help you can provide early on is the assembly of legal documents and management of regular paperwork. If another family member has agreed to act as the primary caregiver, be sure to include him or her in conversations about legal documents — they may have already started to collect important information regarding your elder’s medical care.

It may be helpful to set up a confirmation system so you’ll know your parents’ bills are being paid each month. Ask your parents or grandparents if they are willing to give you online access to their accounts with utilities companies, telephone companies, and other important service providers. This doesn’t make you responsible for paying their bills; it simply gives you a way to make sure their bills are paid on time.

Another task your family will thank you for taking on is searching out help for additional in-home care, if it becomes necessary, and information regarding any financial assistance your elders may qualify for. The Family Caregiver’s Alliance has a website full of information that can help you. There’s also a lot of useful information at the Federal Administration on Aging. Remember, though, most elder care services are ultimately local in nature, so make a thorough exploration of all the options available in your elder’s hometown.

Supporting your elder and yourself

Although you’re far away, you can still stay in touch with regular phone calls and letters. Staying in contact like this will provide great emotional support to your parents and grandparents — and it will be a comfort to you as well. If you can afford to take a few days away from work, make visits every few months. Keep in close contact with your family support team, and let them know you’re available to help whenever they need it.

Then take some time to care for yourself, too. It may be a good idea to join a support group, either in person or online. This is a great way to share your worries and pick up ideas from others in similar situations. Above all, know you are doing your best to provide support to the people you love the most. When you can view your contributions as they really are — an expression of love — you’ll worry less and enjoy your relationships more.